Financial Abuse of Senior Citizens
Iris C F Gomes
Old age becomes a curse to many and the challenges that one faces at as vulnerable a time as this are many. The United Nations Organisation celebrated 15 June as World Elder Abuse Awareness Day because the number of older people is predicted to increase exponentially between 2015 and 2030, more so in developing countries. Along with this trend, there will be a rise in abuse of older persons. To check this violation of human rights, the UNO seeks to draw attention to this problem, which is essentially a global issue. The theme for 2017 is ‘Understand and End Financial Abuse of Older People: A Human Rights Issue’ and the matter was discussed particularly with regard to elderly people in Goa, at the Friday Balcão in Mapusa.
In the past, there have been incidences of elderly parents being divested of their property through forged signatures or using chicanery to obtain valid signatures and then dumping them in old age homes. Elderly individuals have been hoodwinked in the same way by trusting swindlers who use the power of attorney to lay claim to property and money.
Banking is another potential quagmire with older people not understanding certain schemes and being bullied into accepting certain investments by unscrupulous employees. Although SBI (State Bank of India) has mechanisms, such as having a queue only for older people, in place to ensure the banking process becomes less stressful, there is need for extra vigilance in safeguarding the interests of the elderly and the onus is on the managerial authorities. Avelino de Sa, a financial advisor, says, ‘There is a lot of misselling happening in private and co-operative banks. When you go to make a fixed deposit, they force you to take a life insurance policy or invest in mutual funds. A 75-year-old woman was sold a pension plan of 1.5 lakhs, one-time payment, with a lock-in of five years. A lot of awareness is needed to stop this exploitation.’
Sometimes unscrupulous people sell timeshares as fixed deposit schemes, as in the case of one lady who invested Rs 1 lakh only to find that she could not recover it when the so called fixed deposit had matured. Many seniors who do not believe in banking and had 500 and 1000 rupee notes, lost the opportunity to recover their money because of their lack of knowledge of the proceedings during the demonetisation process that took place in 2016.
The internet, online banking and ATMs with debit cards have given rise to new problems. We have elderly folks being taken for a ride by fraudsters asking them for loans, donations, their banking passwords, ATM pins, debit card numbers, etc. Inexperience in this area leads to gullible older people falling prey to the cheats. There have been cases where entire bank accounts have been emptied because the pin or banking passwords were revealed to scammers involved in vishing, a method of fraud where the victim is tricked into revealing crucial details through a phone call.
The Financial Literacy Week, organised by the Reserve Bank of India, was seen as a way of educating senior citizens about investments and banking so as to prevent them from being hoodwinked. Goa State Co-Operative Bank has been deemed the nodal agency for conducting financial literacy programmes throughout the year. The bank is supposed to have set up a financial literacy office at their head office in Patto, Panjim. The Senior Citizens Volunteer Committees in police stations, consisting of the three member group of seniors mandatorily appointed by every police station for the local panchayat/s or municipality, and the Umeed Centres (day care centres) for the elderly, were listed as means of communicating legal and financial information.
The Economic Offences Cell of the police should be quick to take cognisance of reports of financial fraud against seniors and to aid them in every manner possible. Frequent awareness programmes by Service Clubs (Rotary Club, Lions Club, etc), Consumer Forums, NSS (National Social Service) and Legal Aid Cells will go a long way in securing the elderly in Goa from unscrupulous individuals.
The Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007, not only mandates that the children and relatives have to maintain the senior citizen financially, it also stipulates that any property transferred by the senior citizen after the passing of this Act can be reclaimed by him or her. Laws, however, are useless until put into practice.
G Satyanarayan, a former employee of SBI, states, ‘It must be admitted that the erosion of morals has led to the present day scenario of seniors encountering financial trials.’ Laws may right a wrong, but we know that prevention is better than the cure. What seems to be more important at this time, to confront this financial abuse, is the return to the values of honesty, being responsible, and respecting one’s elders.