Elder abuse affects an estimated five million victims annually, and financial exploitation is among the most common forms.
This crime can have devastating results. Victims not only face theft of their money and damage to their credit history, but potentially a descent into poverty and homelessness.
Government agencies have asked credit unions (or in some states, have required them) to play a key role in detecting and preventing elder financial exploitation.
As front-line staff, your familiarity with your older members enables you to spot irregular behavior, transactions, or account activity.
How to spot it
Unusual behavior by your older members, as well as suspicious financial transactions, could indicate that your member is the victim of a financial crime.
Be on alert for older members who:
Watch for situations where a third party speaks on behalf of the member, particularly when the member is present.
Also, be alert for suspicious financial transaction activity, including:
How to stop it
It’s common for people who commit financial exploitation to exaggerate their authority to act for an older adult. They might claim to be helping your member or might explain that the member is unable to visit the credit union in person.
Always check authorizations, including signature cards, guardianship, and power of attorney.
Ask your older member to explain and confirm questionable transactions. Don’t ask the person who is accompanying him or her.
If that person prevents the older adult from answering, this might be a sign of financial exploitation, or even physical abuse.
If you suspect fraud, contact a supervisor immediately. Together, you can review the account history, the pattern of transactions, and the transaction in question to determine if you should process, stop, or report the transaction to the credit union’s security officer.
Consider installing equipment to collect surveillance video or photographs. This might discourage the exploiter and possibly provide critical evidence to an investigation.
Educate your members
Some say older adults can protect themselves with a healthy dose of suspicion. Some steps you can take to educate your members:
Elder financial abuse is growing as the population ages. It’s been called the “fastest growing crime of the 21st century.”
Be aware and be vigilant. Never assume that someone has already reported a suspicious situation.
If necessary, call your local adult protective services agency. If you suspect your member is in immediate danger, call 911 for your local law enforcement.
This article initially appeared in Credit Union Front Line newsletter, the monthly sales and service newsletter for branch staff and their managers. Subscribe now to the print or PDF version.