Elder financial abuse is a crime that robs Americans of billions every year. According to a survey conducted by the Elder Protection Trust in 2010, around one out of five senior citizens has been or will be a victim of fraud. And still other figures don't leave room for much optimism - the National Adult Protective Services Association states that only about one in fourty-four elders will end up reporting when they've financial exploitation. With such daunting odds in the fight against elder financial abuse, where is the best point to prevent it - or stop it in its tracks - early on?
As it turns out, bank tellers are on the "front line" of the battle against elder financial abuse, since they are often the first to notice irregularities that might point to wrongdoing by a third party. The Bangor Daily News of Bangor, ME, recently published an in-depth article that highlights the important role of employees at local banks and credit unions in stopping exploitation of our seniors. An alert bank teller will often be able to spot potential vulnerabilities of an elderly customer, as well as signs of financial foul play. Here are some red flags tellers should look out for:
- Scams: Seniors can easily fall victim to various telephone scams, bogus sweepstakes, and other frauds. Engaging the elderly customer in conversation and learning the purpose of their withdrawal could literally protect their savings from financial predators.
- Irregularities: Irregularities in a senior customer's account could indicate that financial elder abuse is afoot. If the account is bouncing checks or overdrawn, then further investigation is warranted. Find out who else has access to the elder's account information. Power of attorney over finances could also be abused by a reckless family member or another bad actor.
- Vulnerabilities: Tellers can watch for signs that an elderly customer's mental condition could be deteriorating, such as memory loss and other symptoms associated with dementia or Alzheimer's. Such ailments make seniors especially vulnerable to abusive predators.
In addition to spotting potential signs of trouble, bank tellers can also take positive steps against financial elder abuse. Whenever possible, bank tellers should encourage family involvement or enrollment in programs to help seniors manage their finances; in some cases, calling adult protective services or the police may be necessary.
Special training for bank tellers can help detect and prevent elder financial abuse before it's too late. In Maine, for example, the public-private training program Senior$afe is equipping tellers with the knowledge and skills to protect their community's senior citizens from exploitation. Adoption of such initiatives in California would go a long way in combatting an epidemic of elder financial abuse in our state and restore an ethic of responsibility to financial services. Our loved ones - the most vulnerable among us - deserve as much.