SAN FRANCISCO, May 13, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- The Administration on Aging recognizes May as Older Americans Month, and in support, Bank of the West is providing tips and guidance to protect seniors from financial scams and elder abuse. Financial abuse is now the third-most commonly substantiated type of elder abuse in the country. In just two years, the annual financial loss by elder victims has risen 12 percent to an estimated $2.9 billion.
For financial fraudsters, senior citizens represent the fastest growing pool of potential victims. This aging demographic has been called the "silver tsunami," as every day and for the next 19 years beginning January 2011, 10,000 baby boomers are turning 65 years old.
"The majority of baby boomers are homeowners and it's their home equity along with other nest eggs such as retirement funds and life-long savings accounts that are being targeted by criminals," said Steve Vallejo, head of Corporate Security Investigations at Bank of the West. "Elder financial abuse is one of the fastest growing crimes in the country but it's not getting the attention it deserves."
According to the Elder Financial Protection Network (EFPN), some of the most popular scams targeting senior citizens include:
- Investment fraud
- Fake charities
- Telemarketing and sweepstakes scams
- Deceiving an elderly person to sign loan documents or withdrawal slips
- Use of counterfeit checks or debit cards to drain an elder's account
In some states, financial institutions are mandated to report suspicious fraudulent activity targeting senior citizens. Bank of the West collaborates with national and local law enforcement, as well as social services agencies, to help report, track and prevent elder abuse. The bank also supports its elder customers by reporting suspicious activity in all of the states it operates in, not just those states where it is mandated by law.
"Financial institutions can play an important role in helping to protect vulnerable elder and dependent adults from potentially devastating losses," said Vallejo, a former federal law enforcement official who serves on the board of nonprofit EFPN and is a frequent public speaker on the topic. "Education and awareness are key components of our branch training program. Our team members are trained to recognize red flags on accounts, such as banking activities that are uncharacteristic of a customer's usual business or personal banking practice."
According to the Elder Financial Protection Network, financial abuse is one of the most underreported crimes due to the embarrassment, fear of losing independence, intimidation by the perpetrator and widespread lack of awareness that it is a crime. Bank of the West has been actively involved with EFPN and financial elder abuse awareness for over a decade. Other efforts to rally public awareness on financial elder abuse and other financial scams include a series of Fraud in Brief videos on Bank of the West's YouTube channel.
"Bank of the West has been a long-time supporter of financial elder abuse awareness and the need for communities to address this silent crime," said Dian Quinn, Community Affairs manager for Bank of the West. "This year, the bank will continue to host Be Aware forums throughout our regions with the goal of supporting senior citizens, their family and friends, and communities with the tools to prevent and recover from financial elder abuse."
"As a corporate security professional and a member of the boomer generation, I see diverse levels of physical and financial independence. For example, some seniors are savvy to online and mobile banking, while others prefer paper statements. Regardless of where you are, it's important to be alert, ask questions and pay attention to your accounts and valuables. With our continued education and outreach, I'm optimistic that we're making a positive difference in our communities," said Vallejo.
The Elder Financial Protection Network and Bank of the West offer the following guidance for seniors and their families, to help prevent them from becoming victims of financial abuse:
- Understand that there might come a day when you're unable to handle your financial affairs. Plan ahead to protect your assets and to ensure your wishes are followed.
- Talk to someone at your financial institution, an attorney, or financial advisor about the best options for you.
- Never give personal information to anyone who phones you.
- Never pay a fee or taxes to collect sweepstakes or lottery "winnings."
- Never rush into a financial decision. Ask for details in writing and get a second opinion.
- Consult with a financial advisor or attorney before signing any document you don't understand.
- Get to know your banker and build a relationship with the people who handle your finances. They can look out for any suspicious activity related to your account.
- Check references and credentials before hiring anyone. Don't allow workers to have access to information about your finances.
- Feel free to say "no." After all, it's your money.
- You have the right not to be threatened or intimidated. If you think someone close to you is trying to take control of your finances, call your local Adult Protective Services.
About Bank of the West
Founded in 1874, $62 billion-asset Bank of the West (www.bankofthewest.com), member FDIC and equal housing lender, offers a wide range of personal, commercial, wealth management and international banking services. The bank operates more than 600 retail and commercial banking locations in 19 Western and Midwestern states. Bank of the West is a subsidiary of BNP Paribas, which has a presence in 80 countries with nearly 200,000 employees.
SOURCE Bank of the West