Protecting Our Elders: Recognizing and Preventing Financial Abuse

No matter what your age, it’s important to be aware of elder financial abuse–and how to spot and prevent it. This serious concern affects older individuals across the country.

At Origin Bank, we’re committed to protecting our senior customers and their financial wellbeing. In this blog post, we will teach you how to identify elder abuse scams, pinpoint red flags, and provide guidance on reporting suspicions so you can protect the older people in your life.


Understanding Elder Financial Exploitation (EFE):

Elder financial exploitation (EFE) is the illegal or improper use of an older person's assets, property, or funds. It is the most common type of elder abuse, and various states have legislation against it, including mandatory reporting laws for financial institutions like Origin Bank.

While anyone can experience financial abuse, elderly people are often targeted because of the savings and property they’ve accumulated over their lifetime. Additionally, many elderly people develop issues with memory and cognitive skills as they age, making them more vulnerable to these scams.

While many people associate financial exploitation with phone scammers or strangers, it often occurs within the confines of a safe space. Caregivers, visitors, neighbors, and even loved ones may try to take advantage of the aging people in their lives.

Picture this: Mary's grandchild offers to help her run a few errands. Gratefully, Mary hands over her debit card, asking them to pick up her favorite hair conditioner. But instead of running the errand as promised, the grandchild uses Mary's debit card for a brand-new TV. This breach of trust is a common and troubling example of financial abuse.

From taking money without permission to overcharging for services to neglecting to repay debts, elder financial abuse comes in many forms, which we explore here.

Common Types of Elder Financial Exploitation

Elder financial abuse can take many forms and involve perpetrators who are either strangers or individuals in positions of trust. Examples of financial exploitation scams include:

● Theft: Stealing cash, checks, or valuable possessions from an elderly person.

● Investment and Securities Schemes: Deceptive schemes aimed at defrauding seniors of their investments.

● Lottery and Sweepstakes Scams: Fraudulent offers of winnings in exchange for payments.

● Identity Theft: Unauthorized use of a senior’s personal information.

● Improper Use of Conservatorship, Guardianship, or Power of Attorney: Abusing legal authority for financial gain.

● Coercion: Forcing a senior to sign documents such as a power of attorney or will.

● Telemarketing Fraud: Scams conducted over the phone.

● Internet Phishing Schemes: Online fraud targeting seniors.

● Home Repair Scams: Deceptive practices related to home repairs, such as overcharging or theft of property.

● The "Grandparent Scam": Impersonating a grandchild to urgently solicit money.


Recognizing Red Flags

There are several warning signs that could indicate potential elder financial abuse. By recognizing and understanding them, you can be alert to fraud before it happens. Red flags include:

1. Changes in Spending or Transaction Patterns: Keep an eye on fishy spending or transaction patterns. Warnings might include out-of-sequence check numbers and unexpected overdraft fees. Large withdrawals and rapid-fire ATM withdrawals can raise concerns as well, while red flags like multiple small-dollar checks can indicate a possible telemarketing or charity scam.

2. Changes to Accounts: Be on the lookout for dubious account changes, such as the addition of new authorized signers, address changes for statements, and sudden changes to financial documents like Power of Attorney or account beneficiaries.

3. Changes in Attitude: Keep a close eye not only on your elderly relative’s accounts, but also on their behavior. If, for example, they have a new companion or caregiver who exerts excessive control over the elderly account holder's communication, this could indicate financial abuse in the making. Noticeable changes to the customer's physical or mental appearance, excitement about “winning” a sweepstakes or lottery, or supporting a new friend financially can also indicate areas for concern.


Reporting Abuse

To help protect your loved ones from financial exploitation once you’ve noticed red flags, you need to file a report. Collecting enough information for these reports is essential. Be sure to keep track of these details:

● Time, date, and location of the event

● Full names of parties involved and witnesses

● Full description of the abuse

● Any need-to-know information regarding the elderly person’s health or mental condition

Then follow these steps to report suspected abuse:

1. Report it to APS: Adult Protective Services (APS) are state social service programs that protect older and disabled adults who are at risk of abuse, exploitation, or neglect. To find out how to get help in your area, select your state at this link.

2. File a police report: If the elderly adult’s immediate safety is threatened, call 911. Otherwise, call your local police station’s non-emergency line and submit a report detailing the abuse.

3. Contact the bank. If abuse involves a financial account, help the elderly adult contact their bank, credit card company, and other financial institutions as soon as possible. Depending on the circumstances, the bank may be able to help your loved one recover their funds or confirm whether the theft is covered by banking insurance.

Origin Bank is committed to supporting all customers’ financial health. By recognizing the signs of elder financial abuse, understanding scams, and reporting suspicions promptly, we can better protect our seniors and their financial security. Together, we can make a difference in the lives of those who have contributed so much to our communities.