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Elder Financial Abuse Prompts FINRA to Propose New Protective Regulations

by John Gomez | Last Updated: November 4, 2016
Financial Elder Abuse

According to many experts, the problem of elder financial abuse in the United States continues to get worse.  Scammers are repeatedly targeting older people.  These scammers spend as much time perfecting their craft as anyone else does working in a legitimate profession.  People who are retired today and living off of those savings started putting money away well before there was an Internet or cell phones.  These forms of technology have made communication easier, but that’s not always a good thing.

FINRA, or the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, is taking steps to allow their members more maneuverability that’s meant to protect their clients in response to this problem.  FINRA recently put forth a proposal to the Securities and Exchange Commission, or SEC.  This proposal would give financial professionals more options with regards to protecting people’s assets when they suspect a problem.

An Overview of FINRA

FINRA is a private organization that acts as a self-regulatory agency.  It is a non-profit entity that Congress authorized to protect investors in the United States.  According to FINRA’s Web site, the organization took the following steps in furtherance of investors’ interests in 2015 alone:

  • FINRA brought over 1,500 disciplinary actions against registered brokers.
  • It levied more than $95 million in fines.
  • The organization ordered more than $96 million in restitution.
  • It referred more than 800 fraud and insider trading cases to the SEC and other governmental agencies.

Overall, FINRA oversees nearly 650,000 registered brokers.

FINRA’s Elder Financial Abuse Proposal

Recently, FINRA proposed new regulations to the SEC that would expand the ability and responsibility of wealth management firms.  These new abilities and responsibilities would:

  • Require firms to make reasonable efforts to obtain contact information for a client’s “trusted person”
  • Require the firm to contact this trusted person if it suspected financial abuse
  • Permit firms to place a temporary hold on the disbursement of funds when they suspect that a client is being financially exploited
  • Allow firms to act under explicit language in regulations, as those that exist now do not speak specifically to these steps

An article in published a report describing the situation.  FINRA is proposing these changes to regulations because the investor population is getting older.  Specifically, the Baby Boomers are beginning to move into their retirement years.  FINRA also appears to be troubled by what it sees as a growing problem.  The organization launched a senior helpline in April of 2015.  It is designed to provide advice to older investors who may be dealing with fraud.  The helpline reportedly received more than 4,600 calls during its first 13 months in existence.  The new regulations would not go into effect unless or until the SEC approves them.

Elder Financial Abuse – An Example

KPNX in Phoenix recently ran a troubling story regarding elder financial abuse.  Those interested in reading it can find it here.  The story focused on the work that the Department of Economic Security, or DES, is currently facing.  The DES is a state-level governmental agency that helps people deal with different types of financial difficulties.  Clearly, elder financial abuse is one of the bigger problems the agency is grappling with these days.

The story on the KPNX Web site stated that in 2015, the DES investigated 13,792 cases of abuse, neglect or exploitation.  This represented an increase of 19 percent when compared to 2014.  Nearly 10,000 of those cases involved people who were at least 60 years old.  Of those 13,792 cases, 4,243 involved alleged financial exploitation.  This represented a 24 percent increase when compared to 2014.  As such, the trend that’s taking hold is clear.  If this is occurring in Arizona, there is no reason to think that it’s not happening everywhere else at least to some degree.

Warning Signs of Elder Financial Abuse

If you have a loved one who is receiving some form of ongoing care, you need to be vigilant for several different types of mistreatment.  There are common warning signs with regards to elder financial abuse.  The American Association of Retired Persons, or the AARP, has published a list of these warning signs.  Some of these include:

  • Lack of knowledge with regards to major financial issues or decisions – If an older person is unable to, for instance, recall a large withdrawal or some other financial maneuver, it could signal a problem.
  • Challenges with physical frailty – If an older person is losing the ability to move around and handle errands and chores without help, it could open the door to unscrupulous “professionals” working on a home and charging an exorbitant amount.
  • Isolation – If an older person does not live near family or have much contact with people overall, he or she could be vulnerable to new “friends” who connect with this person.  Such “friendships” could lead to elder financial abuse with little or no oversight.
  • Questionable behavior of relatives – Unfortunately, a large number of elder financial abuse cases involve family members or people who are otherwise close to the victim.  That close relationship may allow the perpetrator to get away with exploitation for a longer period of time.

Perhaps most disturbing was the detail that only 1 in 44 cases of elder financial abuse is ever reported to authorities.  Those interested in reading the entire AARP list can find it here.

How Elder Financial Abuse Lawyers Can Help

You need to act immediately ff you suspect that a loved one suffering from the effects of financial exploitation.  Whom to contact will depend largely on where this person is and what is happening to him or her.  When in doubt, you can always contact local law enforcement agencies to report the crime.  States also have Adult Protective Services or APS agencies that can help you if you need to file a complaint or you need help in understanding how to handle the situation.

If you or a loved one has been harmed in this manner, you should also consider taking steps to recover what was taken.  You can learn more about how you can do so by contacting a San Diego based lawyer at Gomez Trial Attorneys to schedule a free initial consultation.

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