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Protecting the Elderly from Financial Abuse

Senior woman is knitting sweather

U.S. banks reported nearly 25,000 cases of suspected elder financial abuse to the Treasury Department in 2018, a number that has doubled from just five years ago.

As people over 50 years old control more than 70 percent of the nation’s wealth, fraudsters are using new tactics to take advantage of retiring baby boomers and the growing number of older Americans. Senior financial abuse is estimated to have cost victims at least $2.9 billion in 2017. It’s a staggering number and a threat that is only growing.

What is Elder Financial Abuse?
It’s a crime that deprives older adults of their resources. Older Americans that may have disabilities or rely on others for help can be susceptible to scams and other fraud. Advances in technology can also make it difficult for seniors to know who to trust and what’s safe.

While banks continuously seek stronger controls and methods to protect their older customers, it’s also important to take these steps to safeguard personal information and be aware of the warning signs when it comes to elder financial abuse.

Tips for Seniors:
What should you do to protect yourself?
– Plan ahead to protect your assets and to ensure your wishes are followed. You can talk to us about the best options for you.
– Shred receipts, bank statements and unused credit card offers before throwing them away.
– Carefully choose a trustworthy person to act as your agent in all estate-planning matters.
– Lock up your checkbook, account statements and other sensitive information when others will be in your home.
– Order copies of your credit report once a year to ensure accuracy.
– Never give personal information, including Social Security Number, account number or other financial information to anyone over the phone.
– Never pay a fee or taxes to collect sweepstakes or lottery “winnings.”
– Never rush into a financial decision. Ask for details in writing and get a second opinion if you’re unsure.  
– Consult with a financial advisor or attorney before signing any document you don’t understand.
– Get to know your bankers and build a relationship with the people who handle your finances. We can help you look out for any suspicious activity related to your account.
– Pay with checks and credit cards instead of cash to keep a paper trail.
– Don’t be threatened or intimidated. If you think someone close to you is trying to take control of your finances, call your local Adult Protective Services or tell someone at the bank.
– If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Tips for Family and Friends:
There are warning signs of financial abuse we can look for to help prevent the older people in our lives from becoming a victim. Watch for these red flags:
– Unusual activity in bank accounts, including large, frequent or unexplained withdrawals.
– ATM withdrawals by someone who has never used a debit or ATM card.
– Changing from a basic account to one that offers more complicated services the customer does not fully understand or need.
– Withdrawals from bank accounts or transfers between accounts the customer cannot explain.
– New “best friends” accompanying an older person to the bank.
– Sudden non-sufficient fund activity or unpaid bills.
– Closing accounts without regard to penalties.
– Uncharacteristic attempts to wire large sums of money.
– Suspicious signatures on checks, or outright forgery.
– Confusion, fear or lack of awareness on the part of an older customer.
– Refusal to make eye contact; shame or reluctance to talk about the problem.
– Checks written as “loans” or “gifts.”
– Bank statements that no longer go to the customer’s home.
– New powers of attorney the older person does not understand.
– A caretaker, relative or friend who suddenly begins conducting financial transactions on behalf of an older person without proper documentation.
– Altered wills and trusts.
– Loss of property.

What should you do if you suspect financial abuse?
Talk to them if you see any of these signs and determine what specifically is happening with their financial situation. Report the elder financial abuse to us at the bank and enlist our help to stop it and prevent future reoccurrence.

You should also contact Adult Protective Services for help and report all instances of elder financial abuse to your local police as well.

It’s important to be aware warning signs when it comes to elder financial abuse. We have tools in place to help protect you from fraud and we’re here to help you if you have any questions. Have a conversation with a banker or give us a call at 740-454-2521, and we can tell you more about what we do to help.

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