Why banks are getting very concerned for older customers


When many people think of elder abuse, mistreatment related to nursing home care comes to mind. That’s a severe and prevalent problem, but banks are also becoming aware of a rising trend of financial abuse in the older adult population.

Elderly people make up a significant percentage of banking customers

The increase in financial abuse targeted at older adults is worrisome in itself, but the banking industry as a whole is also concerned because elderly people are substantial segments of their overall customer bases.

According to 2017 data from the American Bankers Association, people over the age of 50 have about 61 percent of the total bank accounts and make 70 percent of all deposits in the U.S.

Also, U.S. Federal Reserve data looked at financial-related changes associated with households in various age and income brackets from 2013 to 2016.

The research found although there were gains in income and wealth across the board, those who saw the most increases in both were adults over the age of 75. That suggests older adults have highly evident reasons to use banking services.

Elder abuse cases often go unreported

Financial-related elder abuse — as well as other kinds of abuse affecting older populations — usually don’t get reported. That outcome occurs for several reasons. In some cases, the victim feels ashamed about what happened and doesn’t want to come forward due to humiliation. Or, the victim may be suffering from cognitive decline, making it especially challenging for them to recognize suspicious communications with scammers.

Fear can also come into play and make victims comply with the person perpetrating financial abuse. They may worry about a backlash against themselves or others. Another complication is how those who orchestrate elder financial abuse are often family members or other people that victims trust. As such, those experiencing trouble may be especially likely to keep quiet.

Data from the National Adult Protective Services Association indicates 90 percent of people who abuse the elderly are relatives or other people the victims trust. Moreover, if a victim depends on someone they know to care for their daily needs, it’s not difficult to understand why they’d feel reluctant to report issues or even confide in friends about them.

Moreover, some older adults are socially isolated, especially if they have disabilities that make it difficult to leave the house. If people don’t have a network of others they can talk to about suspected financial abuse, it’s even more likely they won’t assert concerns.

Examples of elder abuse are various

People attempt to separate seniors from their money in many ways. Lottery scammers target the elderly by telling victims they’ve “won” things and only need to provide their bank details or pay modest fees to collect their prizes. In a similar case, people got phone calls from individuals who claimed to represent Publishers Clearing House, and lost thousands of dollars when they fell for the lies.

When scams occur online through things like phishing emails, the people behind them often capitalize on how the recipients may not be tech-savvy or aware of frequently used tricks. Using official-looking graphics like company logos makes forms and other communications from cybercriminals look authentic.

Some people who target the elderly still visit victims by posing as door-to-door salespersons or legitimate companies reaching out by telephone. Often, these scammers give warnings about urgency. They may discuss “limited-time offers,” or tell a victim a loved one — such as a grandchild — is in a dangerous situation, and they must send money to help them.

When family members are the ones to blame for financial abuse, issues may happen when victims get forced to sign legal, money-related documents they don’t understand. Or, a relative could grab a credit or debit card from a victim’s wallet and use it for unauthorized purchases.

In the latter case, the perpetrator may gain access to a credit card under the guise of convenience. They could say something like “Oh, I can reorder your prescription online for you. I know that website frustrates you. Where’s your credit card?” Then, the card owner likely stays unaware if the abuser buys other things with the card or makes a note of the details.

What are banks doing to address the problem?

In light of elder financial abuse becoming more common, bank employees often receive training that helps them recognize the signs that it may be happening. Also, reporting potential cases of financial abuse does not violate federal privacy. Moreover, both the internal and customer-facing documents banks distribute frequently bring up the issue of financial abuse in older generations to raise awareness.

In Utah, the Bank of American Fork got an award for age-friendly banking. That organization made numerous changes to protect seniors from financial abuse, including offering view-only bank accounts for caregivers to access. Plus, staff members can help older adults and their families set up accounts that have built-in protections for the owner.

Banks in other parts of the country and world could consider some of those methods and others as those entities join in the fight against the financial abuse elderly populations experience.

Knowledge of problems leads to action

Many articles covering the health care industry discuss the growing segment of aging people and how it affects physicians and others in care-providing roles.

That concern is relevant, but it’s also necessary to realize how devastating financial abuse can be for older adults.

Being aware of the issues that exist helps banks and other people involved with senior finances know how and when to respond to possible problems.

Last Updated on February 3, 2021.


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