Last year, banks reported 24,454 suspected cases of elder financial abuse to the Treasury Department. It set a new record.
That’s up 12% from 21,839 cases in 2017, the previous record, and more than double the number in 2013.
The issue of elder financial abuse is likely to grow ever more pronounced. An average of 10,000 Americans turn 65 a day, a pace expected to continue through 2030.
New federal and state laws prompt banks to take a more active role in curbing frauds and scams that target older customers, the Wall Street Journal reported.
Banks for their part have been expanding training programs for employees on how to detect, stop and report issues without violating a customer’s privacy. Employees are even learning to recognize early signs of cognitive decline.
Meanwhile, people over 50 represent one-third of the population but account for 61% of bank accounts and 70% of bank deposits, according to 2017 research by the American Bankers Association.
Last February, a customer in her late 70s walked into a New Canaan, Connecticut, branch of People’s United Bank, asking to wire $30,000 to her grandson. The customer said he had been in a car accident while vacationing in Mexico.
Suspecting what is known as a “grandchild scam,” Rebecca Reed, an assistant manager, instead suggested the customer call her grandson. It turned out he had been at school all day — not in Mexico.
“We can see it when something is not right,” Ms. Reed, who has received a Fraud Fighter award from the bank, said.
Unfortunately, elder financial abuse isn’t always so obvious and can raise privacy issues, or risk alienating customers. The delaying or canceling of transactions also could result in customers missing out on legitimate opportunities.
Some of these issues have been addressed by legislators. A federal law enacted in May called the Senior Safe Act allows bank employees to report suspected cases of elder financial abuse to police and adult protective services.
Bankers in some states have more powerful tools than others. A branch employee at First Farmers & Merchants Bank in Tennessee successfully intervened in a theft targeting a customer in her 90s, whose granddaughter was siphoning cash from the woman’s account to cover the granddaughter’s drug habit, according to Sam Wantland, the bank’s corporate counsel.
The employee did so by refusing — as permitted by a Tennessee law — to honor a power of attorney the granddaughter produced, freezing the account and notifying another relative.
“A lot of times, we know their sons and daughters,” Wantland said. “We know who to reach out to and that’s been very helpful.”
If you have elderly relatives or friends, we encourage you to show them this editorial or read it to them.
The surge in these crimes is worrisome in many families and we all should be willing to try to halt instances of these activities before elderly people lose their lifetime savings.
It’s an increasingly bad trend and everyone should be vigilant. It’s actually a new form of “bank robbery,” without the use of a gun.