Protecting the elderly from financial abuse an urgent matter

The Yang Yin saga illustrates the issue of financial abuse of elders that few Singaporeans talk about ("Six years' jail for taking $1.1m from widow"; last Saturday, and "Study flags financial exploitation of elderly"; yesterday).

Sometimes, this is due to a potential loss of face. Mainly, it is because we do not know where to start.

Given our rapidly ageing population, safeguarding our elders from financial abuse should be an urgent matter on our national agenda. Both individuals and organisations can take proactive steps to prevent elder abuse.

Alarm bells must ring when an individual unrelated to a customer shows up at a bank to ask for his name to be added as a joint account holder, and even more so when large amounts of money are subsequently transferred into his personal account.

When I applied for a business bank account, a bank manager insisted on visiting my home to get a better picture of my situation.

Perhaps banks could implement similar anti-fraud protocols for customers of a certain age.

At least two bank staff should interview the account holders in private (in their own homes), to ascertain that the account holders have thought through the consequences of adding a stranger to their joint bank accounts.

Likewise, the additional account holders should be interviewed separately. Checks should be made to establish that they are what and who they say they are.

If there is any doubt, family, friends and other professionals approved by the account holder (such as doctors) should be consulted.

When unusual activities are noticed on the elderly person's bank accounts, a safeguarding protocol should be triggered, just as credit card companies sound the alert when they think a transaction is suspicious.

Despite these precautions, a determined fraudster who has taken time to "groom" his victim might still succeed.

As individuals, we must ensure that there is a network of people we can trust.

Lasting Power of Attorney should not be signed away without consultation with this network.

Anyone asked to be a witness to the drawing up of a will should be reminded of the responsibility that this entails. Perhaps they, too, need to sign a declaration - with information on how to report potential financial abuse - testifying to this, for "do-it-yourself" wills.

In addition, we should have a well-publicised helpline for people with concerns for their elderly family, friends and neighbours.

Lee Siew Peng (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 04, 2016, with the headline 'Protecting the elderly from financial abuse an urgent matter'. Print Edition | Subscribe