"All clients â€“ not just elderly clients â€“ are potential victims of financial abuse. "
By Rhonda Miller PBN Staff Writer
Keith Peacock is a certified financial planner who has been with The Virtus Group in Providence for more than seven years. He is an adviser to individuals and corporations on financial strategies. He currently holds life, accident and health insurance licenses in several states. Peacock has been accepted into the LPL Financial Retirement Plan Consultant Program, which is for qualified financial advisers who specialize in corporate retirement plans. His securities registrations are currently held with LPL Financial.
He is a member of the East Greenwich Rotary Club and a volunteer with Special Olympics.
Peacock has a bachelorâ€™s degree in accounting from the University of Rhode Island.
PBN: So many financial planners are available to assist consumers, including small and large financial services firms and banks. In light of the fact that doing detailed research on financial planners can be complex and time-consuming, how should consumers begin to choose what type of financial planner is right for them? How can they make sure the financial planner is ethical?
PEACOCK: Usually, the first place to start is to ask people you trust who they use as their own financial adviser. Oftentimes, accountants and estate planning attorneys are willing to recommend advisers that they trust. Although this is a good place to start, it is imperative to keep in mind that not all financial advisers are the same. One factor to consider when choosing a financial adviser is whether to work with an independent adviser, a bank adviser or a financial services company. Independent advisers are not limited in offering products tied to a particular company. That allows them to offer truly unbiased financial advice and invest their clientsâ€™ money in order to pursue the financial future that the client desires, not just one that benefits the adviser. Another great way to learn about a potential financial adviser is to visit the website of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority at www.finra.org This website allows people to see a financial adviserâ€™s registrations and how long the adviser has been in business. More importantly, if there are any complaints filed against a particular adviser, that information is made public on the website. Finally, a great indicator when choosing a financial adviser is looking for those who are CFP professionals. Only those who have fulfilled the certification and renewal requirements of CFP Board can display the CFPÂ® certification marks, which represent a high level of competency, ethics and professionalism. CFP Board's Standards of Professional Conduct require CFP professionals to look out for the clientâ€™s interests above their own.
PBN: Do you think the financial exploitation of older adults by unscrupulous people posing as financial planners is a much of a problem in Rhode Island? Why or why not?
PEACOCK: Fortunately, at The Virtus Group, the majority of our clients are referrals and our mission is â€śTo become our clients most trusted adviser through integrity, hard work and the highest level of personal service.â€ť In addition, any concern about possible abuse toward a senior client would be reported to our compliance department. As financial advisers, we have an obligation to protect the senior investors by being in compliance with FINRA, the Securities and Exchange Commission and state regulations. Additionally, Rhode Island does have agencies to protect senior clients. The Department of Elderly Affairs Protective Services Unit is responsible for investigating complaints of elderly abuse of Rhode Islanders aged 60 and older. They pay close attention to the elderly clientâ€™s family members or caregivers, who are most often those responsible for the financial exploitation of elderly people. The state Attorney Generalâ€™s Elder Abuse Unit prosecutes crimes involving elderly victims of financial exploitation. Anyone who has reasonable cause to believe that an elderly person has been exploited should reach out to these agencies.
PBN: What are the signs of financial abuse that the elderly should watch for? How can the elderly, especially some who are not computer literate, check into financial planners they may consider doing business with?
PEACOCK: All clients â€“ not just elderly clients â€“ are potential victims of financial abuse. Therefore, every client should watch out for signs such as fraudulent charges on their open account or bills they do not recognize. Also, every client should take notice if they stop receiving their regular bills or bank statements. The Securities Regulation Department of the Rhode Island Department of Business Regulation is a great resource the elderly can use if they are not computer literate. This department allows the elderly to obtain information about a potential financial adviser before they decide to work with him or her. Clients can also call FINRA, which is great resource for information about potential advisers.
PBN: What kind of red flags do financial advisers watch for, as far as possible exploitation, when working with elderly clients?
PEACOCK: Red flags may be identified through account monitoring. Some key things to look for would be atypical or large withdrawals or changes in their investment styles. Financial exploitation is often committed by a family member or caregiver. One sign to look for would be if a family member or a caregiver seems to be overly interested in the clientâ€™s financial affairs. Another sign to watch for would be if the elderly client seems nervous or intimidated in the presence of a family member or caregiver.
PBN: Why is financial abuse of the elderly often unreported?
PEACOCK: Crimes against senior citizens often go unreported for many reasons. Elderly clients are often forgetful of previous financial transactions; therefore, they might not realize that they have been victimized. Elderly victims may also have fears of embarrassment if others find out about their situation. Unfortunately, the most likely reason it goes unreported is because it is a loved one who takes advantage of them.