The Georgia Department of Human Services has been awarded a national grant to help fight an “epidemic” problem among its aging population — the loss of retirement savings because of financial abuse and exploitation.
Georgia is one of 12 states to receive a $10,000 AARP BankSafe Initiative grant to develop a free online program so employees at financial institutions can recognize and report abuse.
The purpose is to train frontline staff, such as bank tellers and their supervisors, on how to identify red flags so they can safeguard the savings of older customers, particularly those with dementia.
BankSafe would also focus on ways to make it easier for seniors to access their banks and investment firms and get help when needed.
Collectively, the nation’s seniors have squirreled away quite a valuable nest egg — $18 trillion in assets, according to AARP — and there’s no shortage of swindlers trying to get their hands on it.
Statistics on losses are staggering, said Abby Cox, director of the department’s Division of Aging Services, which will administer the grant.
One in five older adults falls victim to financial exploitation, each losing an average of $120,000, AARP reports. Nationwide, seniors lose $3 billion to financial abuse each year, most of which is ill-gotten gain by family members or caregivers. Banks also suffer losses in this, with more than $1 billion in lost deposits every year.
“It’s become an epidemic,” said Cox. She said it is a never-ending task to stay on top of the situation because online fraud and financial schemes aimed at the elderly are constantly changing.
Aging Services will partner with Atlanta Capital Group and SunTrust Bank to develop the online model. Both institutions have multiple branches statewide and have agreed to train their frontline staff, Cox said.
Before the training program goes statewide, AARP will use Stanford University in California to test its effectiveness.
The timetable is to have the online training up and running in a year, then make it mandatory for frontline employees at financial institutions across Georgia, said Lindsay Greenwald, a forensic specialist with the Forensic Special Initiatives Unit of the Division of Aging Services.
AARP will provide a starting tool kit and technical support as needed. “This is something we’ve been working toward for a long time, but the grant will get us going,” said Greenwald.
Financial abuse and exploitation also has the attention of advocates for the aged across the state.
It is one of the priorities of Georgia’s Older Adults Cabinet, chaired by first lady Sandra Deal and Department of Human Services Commissioner Robyn A. Crittenden. The group seeks ways to improve the lives and well-being of the elderly.
Others interested in joining the conversation and seeking solutions can sign up to be part of a Financial Exploitation Working Group through the division’s Forensic Special Initiatives Unit.
The unit is tasked with training law enforcement, first responders and attorneys on reporting and investigating allegations of elderly abuse. An Aug. 11 training session for GBI officers will focus on financial abuse of seniors with dementia.
“We have great community partners. It’s just a matter of getting everyone trained, and that’s not easy,” said Cox.
Financial exploitation is a felony, punishable by up to 20 years in prison, Cox said. Those who suspect something can report it confidentially to Adult Protective Services by calling toll-free 1-866-552-4464, or online at aging.georgia.gov/report-elder-abuse.
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