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Senior financial abuse is on the rise: How can it be stopped?

The Treasury Department reported that suspected cases of elder financial abuse had more than doubled from five years ago to 24,454. The problem may continue to grow, as projections show that by 2030, 25 percent of the U.S. population (one in five Americans) will be age 65 or older.

Who has the largest share of bank deposits? Not surprisingly, those over age 50 make up about a third of the population, but have 70 percent of bank deposits, according to the American Bankers Association. Federal and state laws are prompting banks to take a more active role in preventing their customers from being taken advantage of by scammers.

Grandchild scam, social media and landlines

The scams are numerous and constantly becoming more sophisticated. In our post from July 2018, we covered a number of variations.

The grandchild scam starts with a call from someone claiming to be a friend of a grandchild. The caller might claim a serious accident happened and ask the grandparent to send money. Or it may be someone posing as an attorney asking for money to cover bail and legal fees after a grandchild was arrested for a DUI accident.

An assistant branch manager at a bank in Connecticut heard one of these stories from a customer in her late 70s. Before wiring the requested $30,000, she suggested calling other family members. That call made a difference, it turned out he was safe and had been at school. The assistant manager received a Fraud Fighter award, but noted that many bank employees can “see it when something is not right.”

Unfortunately, many scams involve caregivers and family members. Some bankers blame increasing adoption of social media by older Americans for increases in fraud cases targeting elders. Seniors are also the most likely to have landlines with listed phone numbers. They may be more likely to pick up as well.

From new laws to training programs

Banks must walk a fine like, however, because scams are not always obvious. Customer privacy can become an issue and for elderly customers, questioning may feel patronizing. A delayed or canceled transaction could also mean a customer misses an opportunity.

A federal law called the Senior Safe Act lets bank employees report suspected elder financial abuse to police. Several states have gone further by allowing bank employees to delay or refuse transactions or contact family members to ask about a suspicious money transfer.

Many banks have started training employees on detecting, reporting and stopping issues in a way that does not violate customer privacy. This includes recognizing red flags, such as ATM use after midnight.

While it is sad and depressing that scam artists continue to prey on older Americans, this post is meant as a reminder to stay vigilant. By communicating at a family level and a wider community level, we can protect those most at risk.

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