July 29, 2014 / 5:00 PM / 3 years ago

U.S. lawyer groups launch effort to prevent elder financial fraud

NEW YORK, July 29 (Reuters) - Lawyers will have access to training on identifying elderly clients who have fallen prey to financial scams under a continuing education program introduced Tuesday by the American Bar Association and two investor protection groups.

The program will teach lawyers how to spot signs of cognitive impairment, identify possible cases of investment exploitation and report these suspected instances to the appropriate authorities.

Sponsored by the ABA along with the Investor Protection Trust and the Investor Protection Institute, two nonprofit organizations devoted to investor education and protection, the new program is called the Elder Investment Fraud and Financial Exploitation Prevention Program Legal.

Roughly one in five older Americans has been victimized by financial scams which cost them some $2.9 billion a year, according to studies from the Investor Protection Trust and MetLife Inc. Dementia caused by old age and other types of brain damage can make people more vulnerable to financial exploitation.

“Our goal is to improve the communication among legal professionals, older Americans, adult children and state securities regulators in order to head off financial swindles before the damage is done,” Don Blandin, president and chief executive of IPT, said in a press release announcing the program.

Attorneys may not realize that they can get into trouble themselves if they don’t recognize the signs of a scam, said Lori Stiegel, project director at the ABA.

“A lawyer who is ignorant of (elder investment fraud and financial exploitation) and fails to recognize its signs may unwittingly participate in victimizing the client... and as a result may face professional discipline and liability for malpractice,” Stiegel said in the release.

When the three groups surveyed 674 practicing attorneys it found 91.4 percent considered elder financial fraud to be a “very serious” or “somewhat serious” problem, and 88.6 percent said they would participate in a program designed to prevent this exploitation.

Other organizations plan to create resources to help financial professionals diagnose mental acuity in their clients. The North American Securities Administrators Association is developing guidelines for how brokerages can protect vulnerable clients. The Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association is also pushing for similar changes. (Reporting By Michael Leibel; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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