Banks join fight to help financial exploitation of seniors


ELDER ABUSE AWARENESS FORUMS

June is Elder Abuse Awareness Month and the Butler County Prosecutor’s Office is hosting several informational forums about the issue.

  • June 10: 9 a.m. to noon at West Chester Activity Center, 7900 Cox Road, West Chester; 513-779-7360
  • June 17: 1 to 4 p.m. at Partners in Prime, 140 Ross Ave., Hamilton; 513-867-1998
  • June 21: 1 to 4 p.m. at Central Connections, 3907 Central Ave., Middletown; 513-423-1734

  • June 28: 1 to 4 p.m. at Oxford Seniors, 922 Tollgate Drive, Oxford; 513-523-8100

WHO TO CALL FOR HELP

Butler County Crimes Against the Elderly Task Force: 1-888-662-3673

Ohio Attorney General’s Office: 1-800-282-0515

With the population of Americans ages 60 and older growing faster than previously estimated, financial institutions are joining law enforcement in helping seniors being swindled of their life savings by scam artists.

"Elder financial exploitation has been called the crime of the 21st century, and fighting it has never been more urgent," Richard Cordray, a former Ohio attorney general who is now director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in Washington, recently told The Columbus Dispatch.

Though financial exploitation is one of the most common forms of elder abuse, it also is one of the least reported, he said.

Many victims are too embarrassed to pursue criminal action, Cordray said. Others are too emotionally or physically frail.

True Link Financial, a private financial-services company, estimates that elder exploitation costs victims about $36.5 billion a year — 12 times more than previously thought.

Older adults make attractive targets because they often have significant assets or equity in their homes and a steady source of income, such as Social Security or a pension, Cordray said.

Many also have cognitive decline or physical disabilities and are isolated from family and friends.

Many financial groups said protecting customers, especially the most vulnerable, is a top priority.

“Many banks already have procedures in place to detect fraudulent activity within older adults’ accounts,” said Christine Mulvin of HealthPath Foundation of Ohio, which serves 36 Ohio counties, including Butler County.

“Trained tellers look for signs of fraud, including large or frequent cash withdrawals, new account transfers or other unusual transactions. Another sign tellers look for is when another individual deposits checks for an older adult or checks begin being deposited through an ATM or mobile device,” she said.

Financial intuitions are using fraud detection software that looks for suspicious activity in an older adults’ account and special limits on older adults’ accounts can also be put in place, such as cash withdrawal limits or geographic limits that only allow for withdrawals within a certain region, according to Mulvin.

Still, financial institutions also have to be careful about what personal information they share if they detect fraud.

Banking institutions are generally able to report suspected financial fraud to authorities without violating privacy provisions in federal banking laws. Last year, the Ohio House also passed a bill that would add financial institutions to the list of mandatory reporters.

Technology has created new types of fraud and scams to swindle seniors out of their life savings, according to Laurie Petrie, vice president of communications for the Council on Aging of Southwestern Ohio, an agency that advocates on behalf of older adults and people with disabilities in Butler, Clermont, Clinton, Hamilton and Warren counties.

“A lot of elderly people trust caller ID and think that it will keep them safe,” Petrie said. “Now scammers have software to use a number that someone will recognize.”

“New and more sophisticated methods that are happening every day are being developed to rip off our seniors,” she said. “And as soon as you figure out a way to stop something like this from happening, the scammers find a way around it.”

In 2011, the Butler County Prosecutor’s Office started the Butler County Crimes Against the Elderly Task Force.

Susan Monnin, community outreach director for the prosecutor’s office, said the task force is working, but the scams are unfortunately finding success too.

“These scammers prey on the most vulnerable and have no conscience whatsoever,” she said, adding that they appeal to a senior’s emotions.

“These scammers call the elderly and appeal to their emotional side of the brain because they are lonely,” Monnin said. “The offer of a trip or lottery win appeals to that side of the brain rather than the rational side. You get a call saying a loved one needs money or they are going to jail and often times that scam can work.”

The Ohio attorney general’s office also has increased the investigation and prosecution of elder-abuse cases and improved victims’ access to services. It is working to develop a new advanced training course for law enforcement on the topic and will hold a financial-exploitation symposium in northeastern Ohio in August.

“The victim is who we need to worry about,” Attorney General Mike DeWine told the Dispatch. “The real tragedy of these things is you end up with a person who doesn’t feel safe or secure any longer. It’s not just about losing money.”

This article contains reporting by Encarnacion Pyle of The Columbus Dispatch.