WASHINGTON UPDATE: Partners in the Fight Against Elder Abuse

by Rob Nichols, American Bankers Association

Each year in mid-June, we observe World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD)—a day intended to call attention to the pervasive and worsening problem of elder abuse, including financial exploitation. According to a 2022 FinCEN advisory, elder fraud scams affect at least 10% of older adults in the U.S. annually. But because fraud and scams are often significantly underreported, it means that the actual percentage of victims is likely much higher.

Elder financial exploitation generally falls into one of two categories. The first is elder theft, in which a trusted individual like a family member or caregiver, steals from an older person by forging checks, stealing retirement or Social Security benefits, using credit cards or bank accounts without permission, or other means. The second is elder scams—in which a stranger succeeds in coercing an older adult into transferring money to them through tech support scams, romance scams, or other impostor scams.

Seniors are often targeted for their accumulated wealth, and these scams can be financially and mentally devastating to the victims. In fact, the average loss per older adult was just over $35,000 in 2022, according to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center. In worst cases, seniors may lose their life savings or their homes.

That’s why it’s critical for bankers—who are on the front lines in the fight against elder financial exploitation —to have a solid understanding of the red flags that can signal when an older customer is potentially being exploited. This might look like an older customer making sudden or unusual changes to their account like adding new contacts located overseas, making uncharacteristic attempts to wire large sums of money, or seeming fearful of or submissive to a caregiver or family member.

This year, the ABA Foundation has partnered with the FBI to create a new guide for bankers to help them recognize, respond and report suspected elder financial exploitation to the proper authorities. The guide outlines red flags, provides steps bankers can take if elder abuse is suspected and includes a list of agencies and other partners that can provide additional resources.

The ABA Foundation also offers its popular Safe Banking for Seniors program—a free national program that provides bankers with helpful tools and resources to connect with their local communities to discuss topics like avoiding scams, preventing identify theft, choosing a financial caregiver and more. Any bank in the country, member or non-member, can access these free resources by registering at aba.com/Seniors. You can also access a comprehensive list of resources for older Americans at aba.com/OlderAmericans.

Finally, ABA continues to support the fight against fraud more broadly through its award-winning #BanksNeverAskThat campaign. The consumer-facing awareness campaign aimed at educating the public about the types of information banks would never ask them to disclose over the phone or via text or email will be back this fall, complete with updated resources. Check it out at aba.com/BanksNeverAskThat and register to join the more than 2200 banks across the country doing their part to protect their customers.

We observe World Elder Abuse Awareness Day on June 15—but working to protect seniors from financial exploitation is an ongoing responsibility for all bankers.

Email Rob at nichols@aba.com.