Calls for bank staff to thwart elder abuse

Daniel McCulloch
An advocacy group wants in-bank staff trained to protect customers against elder abuse

Banks are being urged to mark Elder Abuse Day by appointing in-branch staff dedicated to protecting older Australians from financial exploitation.

Advocacy group Greysafe is concerned bank job cuts and new technologies are exposing elderly customers to new threats of financial abuse.

"We've heard many reports of perpetrators spending the money of their victims without permission, forging signatures or forcing older Australians to sign bank forms," Greysafe chief Mike Cahill said on Friday.

"Unfortunately, when faced with new technology and change, older Australians will often put trust in a family member to help or take control of their banking, thus putting them at greater risk of financial abuse and manipulation."

Last week, the banking industry and seniors groups successfully lobbied state and federal attorneys-general to progress standardised power-of-attorney orders to prevent vulnerable parents from "inheritance impatience".

Mr Cahill believes if banks employ dedicated and properly trained "elder protection officers" in branches it will leave them less exposed to adverse action and potential compensation payments.

Australian Banking Association chief executive Anna Bligh says frontline banking staff have horror stories about elderly parents having their homes signed away or large sums of money being taken from their account by adult children.

She's called for authorities other than police to have stronger powers to investigate these cases.

"These are very complex family issues and where and older person does not want to take action against a member of their family, particularly their older children, we believe that there are existing agencies in each state where we could be looking at improving powers of investigation that they have," Ms Bligh told ABC radio.

Leading Age Services Australia is the peak national body representing providers of residential care, home care and retirement living.

Its chief executive Sean Rodney points out elder abuse can be physical, psychological or financial.

"Our community must have zero tolerance towards elder abuse," Mr Rodney said.

"We all have a role to play in identifying, empowering people and ending elder abuse."

On the eve of Elder Abuse Day, it was announced older Australians suffering abuse, and their families, would be able to seek expert help from a new national body.

Senior rights groups from each of the states will partner with the federal government under Elder Abuse Action Australia to protect people from financial and physical abuse.

Attorney-General Christian Porter said on Thursday the new body would help tackle serious crimes of fraud and theft.

Mr Porter said elder abuse was most common in financial settings, with the EAAA to work with law enforcement in such matters as estates, property and bank accounts.

He expects the new group to play a key role in the development of a national plan to combat elder abuse, which he announced in February.