Ending the Financial Exploitation of Older Americans

May 30, 2019
By Lindsay LaNore

Lindsay LaNore ICBA

Older Americans month may be coming to a close, but the fight to combat financial exploitation of this demographic continues.  We’ve all heard—or witnessed—financial exploitation horror stories. A caregiver suddenly begins initiating transactions from a customer’s account; a series of large-sum wires strike a generally dormant retirement account; or a customer’s power-of-attorney abruptly switches to an unknown new family member. Yet despite our industry’s ongoing efforts to monitor and report these suspicious activities, fraudsters continue to put the bull’s-eye on older Americans.

Since 2013, financial institutions have filed more than 180,000 Suspicious Activity Reports targeting older adults, totaling more than $6 billion. In fact, SAR filings on elder financial exploitation have quadrupled from 2013 to 2017, with nearly 80 percent involving a monetary loss to older adults and/or filers, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

In many cases, it’s not only the customer who experiences the loss. Every year, financial institutions lose more than $1 billion in deposits due to the exploitation of older Americans, who control two-thirds of U.S. retail bank deposits. 

With predators increasing their attacks on this vulnerable segment of the population, ICBA is working to ensure community banks have the necessary training to further help staff prevent, identify, and report suspicious activity. 

We recently teamed with AARP to distribute the BankSafe online training platform to ICBA member community banks. This free platform is designed to empower bank employees with additional knowledge, skills, and confidence so that they can better identify signs of financial exploitation and take further steps to protect customer assets.

We also offer educational programs on this topic through Community Banker University®. Our popular Elder Financial Abuse Online Training Course offers a deep-dive into how this type of fraud happens, how to detect it, and most importantly, how to prevent it. This course is available in our training plans and as a stand-alone study. We are also thrilled to announce that Jilenne Gunther, the national director of AARP’s BankSafe program, will be speaking on this topic at the LEAD FWD Summit on Sept 16-17 in New Orleans, La. and at the ICBA Annual Directors Conference, Oct. 6-8, 2019, in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Beyond traditional education, ICBA’s Compliance Vault, which is free and open to all employees of ICBA member banks, contains Q&A related to identifying and reporting elder financial exploitation activity.

Together these resources offer key insights to help community banks thwart attacks on their older customers.

Yet, while these offerings prep bank teams to better handle elder financial exploitation, bankers only represent half of the equation. We also need to equip our senior citizen customers with the knowledge they need to recognize fraud from the outset. Three notable national resources that can be shared with customers to help expand their awareness are:

  1. FDIC & CFPB Money Smart for Older Adults
  2. CFPB Managing Someone Else’s Money Guide
  3. FTC Pass It On Campaign

In addition, Senior Crimestoppers and CRA Partners, operated by the Senior Housing Crime Prevention Foundation, provides turnkey content for financial institutions to share with customers. Engaging with this program allows community banks to support secure living environments for seniors while earning CRA credit.

While we can’t solve elder financial exploitation overnight, we as community bankers can reduce its prevalence. Through ongoing education, we can equip our staff and customers to recognize the warning signs—and we can continue looking out for one another. Because ultimately, it’s the relationships community banks have with their customers that make them uniquely positioned to be a true partner in fighting against this breed of financial crime.  

Lindsay LaNore is Group Executive Vice President, Community Banker University, at ICBA.