County battles financial elder abuse with new campaign

District Attorney Summer Stephan Tuesday announced an outreach campaign designed to increase awareness of financial elder abuse and remind employees of San Diego-area financial institutions of their duties as legally mandated reporters of such crimes. (Credit: San Diego County District Attorney)

SAN DIEGO — District Attorney Summer Stephan Tuesday announced an outreach campaign designed to increase awareness of financial elder abuse and remind employees of San Diego-area financial institutions of their duties as legally mandated reporters of such crimes.

Finance professionals who serve senior citizens “are some of our best eyes and ears for spotting and preventing the exploitation of older and dependent adults,” Stephan said during a late-morning news conference at the San Diego Hall of Justice.

“Employees in financial institutions can make a real difference in the lives of some of the most vulnerable in our community to help protect them from losing their life savings,” the district attorney said.

Under California law, employees of financial institutions, including all banks and credit unions, are required to report suspected elder and dependent adult financial abuse — whether they have direct contact with a potential victim, or even just observe an incident that they suspect may be financial abuse.

The new program, launched in conjunction with Financial Elder Abuse Awareness Month, provides finance workers with examples of warning signs to watch out for and details on how to report any suspected abuse.

The District’s Attorneys Office will distribute the packages to all banks and credit unions in San Diego County, according to Stephan.

Among the training materials is a video featuring industry representatives from the Credit Union League and Western Bankers Association, as well as Marlene Ruiz, a longtime local bank employee who helped prevent a financial elder-abuse crime.

When Ruiz realized that one of her older clients was falling prey to an obvious scam, she intervened and was able to prevent the victim from having thousands of dollars stolen from his bank account, according to Stephan. In honor of those actions, the District Attorney’s Office named Ruiz one of its “Citizen of Courage” last year.

An estimated $36.5 billion is lost annually in the United States due to elder financial exploitation, according to law enforcement officials. In 2018, U.S. banks reported 24,454 suspected cases of elder financial abuse to the Treasury Department, more than double the amount of five years earlier.

In fiscal 2017-18, San Diego County Adult Protective Services received 4,563 referrals involving financial-abuse allegations, with 14 percent of those reports coming from financial institutions, according to Stephan’s office.

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