Community financial institutions in unique position to help protect older accountholders from financial elder abuse fraud

posted by Liz Little (Retired) on Friday, June 12, 2020 in SHAZAM Blog

Elder financial abuse is tough to combat, in part because it often goes unreported. These crimes involve someone improperly using an older adult’s money or belongings for their personal use, and it can happen to seniors of all social and economic backgrounds. Worst of all, this crime can do irreparable damage to its victims’ finances and may ultimately deprive them of basic needs such as food, medical care or housing.  

Scammers target elders perceived to be vulnerable; those isolated, lonely, physically or mentally disabled, those unfamiliar with handling their own finances, or who’ve recently lost a spouse. Scammers often pose as trustworthy helpers. There’s been an uptick of instances of these frauds during the COVID-19 crisis. 

Many elderly victims are often too confused, fearful, or embarrassed by the crime to report it. It’s estimated there are at least 5 million cases of this form of elder abuse in the United States each year, but law enforcement or government officials learn of about only 1 in 25 cases. The National Council on Aging estimates the annual cost of elder financial abuse is up to $36.5 billion. 

Community financial institutions are in a unique position to help protect their accountholders from financial exploitation. Watch for these signs that may help you, and others, identify and ultimately prevent elder financial abuse:

  • Unusually large, frequent, or unexplained account withdrawals, uncharacteristic attempts to wire large sums of money, or checks written as “loans” or “gifts”
  • Changes in account beneficiaries or authorized signers
  • ATM withdrawals by an older person who’s never used a debit or ATM card
  • New “best friends” accompanying an older person to your financial institution for withdrawals
  • Statements no longer going to the accountholder’s home
  • Suspicious signatures on checks or outright forgery
  • Sudden nonsufficient funds activity, unpaid bills, eviction notices, or loss of belongings or property
  • Closing accounts or CDs without regard to penalty
  • A caretaker, relative or friend who suddenly begins conducting financial transactions on behalf of an elder without proper documentation
  • Newly executed documents, such as a will or power of attorney, that the older person doesn't seem to understand

We all play a part in protecting our elders, if you suspect financial fraud is happening, report it immediately:

  • File a suspicious activity report (SAR). The electronic SAR form includes an “elder financial exploitation” category of suspicious activity
  • Contact the local adult protective services agency for help. For state reporting numbers, visit the NCEA State Resources site or call the Eldercare Locator at 800-677-1116
  • Report all instances of elder financial abuse to local police

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