The Wisconsin Bankers Association offers for your use the following consumer education column. Your bank is free to use this as a community column in your local newspaper, a letter to the editor, a press release or in any other way you see fit. The purpose is to give our members an easy-to-use tool for promoting the banking industry to Wisconsin's communities.

Elder abuse is a growing issue across Wisconsin and the entire nation. Over the next two decades, Wisconsin's 65 and older population will increase by 72 percent. In 2017, one in nine seniors reported being abused, neglected, or exploited. Law enforcement, advocacy groups, and Wisconsin's bankers are working together to prevent financial exploitation of our state's seniors, and you can help, too! Here's how:

First, understand what financial exploitation is. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) defines elder financial abuse as "the illegal, unauthorized, or improper use of an older individual's resources by a caregiver or other person in a trusting relationship, for the benefit of someone other than the older individual." Common examples include forgery, misuse or theft of money or possessions, and use of coercion or deception to surrender finances or property. 

Second, learn to recognize the red flags of financial abuse. Keep a close watch on your elderly family members and friends and look for signs such as unusual spending or withdrawal patterns, frequent purchases of unusual or out-of-character items, unpaid bills and/or utilities being turned off, or the presence of a new "best friend" who is accepting generous "gifts" from the older adult.

Finally, know who the typical perpetrators are. Unfortunately, in most cases the abuser is someone the elderly person knows and trusts. Many times the perpetrator is a family member. They may express feeling that the elderly person's belongings are rightfully theirs. The abuser may have financial difficulties such as a tendency to gamble. They may also express fears that the victim will "use up" all of their savings and deprive the perpetrator of an inheritance. Non-relatives may move from community to community in order to avoid detection. They may also try to gain access to elderly persons by masquerading as a counselor or by finding a job as a caretaker. 

Elderly persons who are most at risk are lonely, isolated, unfamiliar with financial matters, and may have lost someone recently or have mental or physical disabilities. 

By using the information above to identify possible elder financial and reporting it to the authorities, you can help stop or prevent this injustice. 

The Wisconsin Bankers Association and its members have worked closely over the past few months with Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel and his Elder Abuse Task Force in creating an awareness video addressing the issue of elder financial abuse for frontline bank staff. Even though the video is designed to educate bank staff, family and friends of Wisconsin's elders will also find it full of useful information. You can watch the video on YouTube here. 

An archive of Consumer Columns is available online at www.wisbank.com/ConsumerColumns

Visit MyMazuma for the latest financial education resources for consumers.