It is hard to imagine who would scam an older adult over their hard-earned savings. But the reality is that as many as 17 percent of Americans aged 65 or older report that they have been the victim of financial exploitation. What’s more, only one in 44 of these cases are ever brought to the attention of protective services. In total, billions of dollars are lost each year due to the financial abuse of older Americans. Recently, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) adopted a novel approach to combatting this trend, intervening with financial education … over a meal.
The CFPB designed a placemat that contains financial education tips on how older adults can avoid scams and maintain their financial wellbeing. The placemat feature advices on navigating lotteries and sweepstakes, phone call offers, and advances from those who are either loved ones or who are purporting to represent loved ones.
To distribute the educational materials the CFPB has teamed up with Meals on Wheels, a nonprofit organization that addresses older adult hunger and isolation through the delivery of quality meals as well as friendly visits and safety checks to communities around the country. Over 75,000 placemats will be distributed by the CFPB / Meals on Wheels team.
A printer-friendly version of the placemat is available for download, or you can reach out to the CFPB to be mailed the full-size version. The mats could be incorporated via, along with meal services, assisted living facilities, senior centers, social groups, and other networks that engage older American adults who might be isolated or not have people helping to manage their finances or look out for them.
The CFPB initiative embodies a few of the seven behaviorally-informed practices that show great promise for application in financial capability-building, which were identified in the recent CFI project A Change in Behavior: Innovations in Financial Capability:
- Rules of Thumb (Heuristics): The placemat uses mental shortcuts that makes the main messages memorable: never pay to play, take your time, and check with loved ones.
- Customize It: The placemat tailors financial security information to the older adult population segment, including scenarios like lottery sweepstakes and grandchildren requesting financial help.
- Make It Social: The placemat is delivered by a person who is tasked with checking in on the older adult, leveraging the human connection that accompanies the message.
Low-cost, integrated financial education materials support financial well-being in other contexts, too. In our report with HelpAge International, Aging and Financial Inclusion: An Opportunity, we discussed the widespread barriers to the financial inclusion of older populations, one of which was a lack of client trust in financial services providers. In our follow-up conversations with key stakeholders following the research, we found that in addition to the provider-side barriers to the financial inclusion of older adults, elder financial exploitation was one of the most concerning trends—and was relevant to people at all income levels in all of the countries we engaged with.
Beyond serving the older adult population, integrated messaging efforts like these help educate on financial scams as well as other financial areas for various demographics around the world. For younger people, financial education messages are often integrated into school curriculum, but could be reinforced in places like lunchrooms and on the backs of cereal boxes. To help young parents consider how to pay for their childrens’ college education, information about education investment accounts could be advertised in parenting magazines and on relevant blogs.
Well done, CFPB, and we look forward to more campaigns like this one.
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