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Retiree advocates want elderly shielded from fraud risk

Published:Wednesday | January 18, 2023 | 12:27 AMSashana Small/Staff Reporter
Jean Lowrie-Chin
Jean Lowrie-Chin

Financial institutions in Jamaica have been urged to do more to protect elderly clients from falling victim to fraud.

That call has been issued by Jean Lowrie-Chin, executive chair of the Caribbean Community of Retired Persons (CCRP).

Lowrie-Chin said that the CCRP has been consulting with the Jamaica Bankers Association to implement measures to make the process of banking safer and easier for elderly persons.

Recently, she said her organisation, in collaboration with at least two banks, hosted webinars to educate members about online banking, an undertaking that Prime Minister Andrew Holness has indicated is essential to Jamaica becoming a digitised economy.

“Because their presentations were simple, it helped some of our members to get online, and when they are able to go online, they can monitor their accounts more closely,” she said.

Elder fraud has emerged as a major concern among lobbyists for ageing citizens – a development that has increased significance amid unfolding embezzlement scandals emerging at commercial banks and investment firm Stocks & Securities Limited (SSL).

Several staffers have in recent months been slapped with fraud charges, of between $21 million and $65 million, at National Commercial Bank and Sagicor Bank. But the bombshell revelation of billions of dollars being fleeced at SSL has heightened scrutiny and caused jitters among the investing public.

Lowrie-Chin recalled an incident three years ago in which an elderly person, afflicted with dementia, was reportedly taken to the bank by her caregiver and persuaded to approve the withdrawal of a large sum of money. She told The Gleaner that it is imperative that financial institutions impose rigorous protocols to prevent exploitation.

“When their customers get to a certain age, they can give them some advice on what else they can do. For example, if they are the only names on the account, would it be time for them to put a trusted relative on the account with them so that no one can go and persuade somebody who is no longer aware to withdraw funds,” Lowrie-Chin said.

But while referencing the “reluctance and suspicion” of some senior citizens to involve others in their financial affairs, ageing expert Professor Denise Eldemire-Shearer said it is important to protect elderly members of the population from fraud.

With digital banking increasingly touted as a modern way of conducting transactions, Eldemire-Shearer lamented the challenges faced by persons who are not tech-savvy.

“A lot of older people cannot manage the digital banking that is being seen as the best way. They can’t manage PINs, they don’t know how to use cards and ATMs,” she said.

Eldemire-Shearer cautioned banks that in their push for digitisation, they may cause a large demographic to be left behind.

“There are many older people who don’t have a bank account and are being encouraged, almost forced, into having bank accounts so that they can collect payments,” the professor said.

“When we go digital with everything, what happens to the older person in the rural area who doesn’t have a smartphone, who doesn’t have a laptop and Internet access?”

Eldemire-Shearer has called for more consultation between financial institutions and organisations representing elderly citizens.

“Right now, we tell older folks what we’re going to do, and we don’t necessarily find out what they can do,” she said.