Fight Against Financial Abuse of Seniors

Older people are too often the target of financial scams and money-focused manipulation.

We've seen this all too often: Joey wanted to cash a large check from his grandmother's account. A bank employee called his grandmother, Joyce, who said her husband had recently died and that her grandson was helping out. Further review of Joyce's account revealed expenses for electronics, auto accessories, and adult entertainment. Joey was not using the money for his grandmother's benefit.

The bank employee refused to cash the check in Joey's hand. Instead a call was made to Adult Protective Services (APS). Joey eventually admitted to an APS worker that he misspent his grandmother's money. An out-of-state daughter was contacted, and she helped Joyce safeguard her assets and put needed care in place. Unfortunately, Joyce's situation is not unique.

In another case, an 88-year-old woman called her bank's vice president, asking to liquidate a $40,000 certificate of deposit. It was highly unusual for this long-time customer of the bank to take this action, especially before the CD had matured. The vice president questioned the woman more and heard a younger, impatient voice in the background urging the woman to hurry up. The bank official became suspicious and told her customer that she needed to check the account further and get back to her. She contacted Adult Protective Services.

APS agencies statewide tracked the loss of assets from elder and dependent adult financial abuse for just one day. The assets included real estate, vehicles, bank accounts, and more. The total: $20 million. Just one day.

Who can help?

Financial institutions can be key gatekeepers in the battle against financial abuse. Many older adults have long relationships with one bank or credit union. They know many tellers by name. Those tellers often know when there's an unusual change in the banking pattern of a regular customer.

In these examples, if the bank employees had not looked into the situations further and called APS, the money could have disappeared rapidly.

Many financial institutions throughout the county have been partners with APS, law enforcement and the District Attorney's office in the fight against financial abuse of elders and dependent adults. As of Jan.1, all banks and credit unions in California are mandated to join this growing battle. In this state, more than 600,000 incidents of financial abuse occur each year. Sadly, for every situation reported, an estimated 25 other similar incidents of financial abuse go unreported.

Joint forces

Legislators felt it was time to bring all banks and financial institutions into this effort. There has been a reluctance in the banking industry to mandate employees to report suspicion of financial abuse. The concern was over upsetting customers with questions regarding their finances. Understandably, privacy is an important issue for financial institutions.

So APS agencies in the state are working to educate customers about this new law. Financial institutions are not seeking to pry into their business; the goal is to protect customers' assets. Account information will be guarded as before, with sensitive information only being released to investigative agencies, such as APS or law enforcement, or by court order. When it comes to fraud and financial elder abuse, the customers will certainly benefit from the extra attention.