By Corey CarlisleWith more than two-thirds of all bank deposits held by older Americans and trillions of dollars to be inherited or transferred by aging adults from their grandparents, parents and others, financial abuse of the elderly is on the rise. In response, First Financial Bankshares in Abilene, Tex., launched a Financial Exploitation Program called “Fraud Busters,” a unique partnership between themselves, the Abilene Police Department and Adult Protective Services (APS).
First Financial chairman Scott Dueser says he would describe the problem as “an epidemic that every bank should be paying attention to and taking action to protect their customers.” According to a MetLife study, financial abuse and exploitation of the elderly results in losses of around $2.9 billion annually. Almost everyone agrees that number is likely much higher as victims are often unlikely to report these crimes because they are frequently perpetrated by someone they know and trust.
Damages are only likely to increase, as the aging demographic of the United States is increasing rapidly. Baby boomers—those born between 1946 and 1964—are creating a dramatic shift in the age composition of the U.S. population. Projections suggest that 71.4 million people will be age 65 or older in 2029. This figure is close to 20 percent of the U.S. population by 2029, up from 14 percent in 2012.
Fraud is often perpetrated on the elderly through a middle-man who develops an online relationship with someone (via a dating or gaming website), that will, over time, lead to an “ask” for a financial favor. Dueser described one situation where an elderly customer came into his bank to see if the funds she had deposited the day before had cleared. She deposited a check for $1,500 that she received in the mail. She intended to mail the sender a check for $1,400.
Upon hearing the story, bank staff advised the customer she was a victim of a scam. They placed a hold on the funds and alerted the woman not to mail the check. They called the person whose account the check was drawn on and discovered she was also elderly. The paying bank was notified and placed a stop payment of the check to protect their customer’s account.
“The situation in Abilene is no different than what the industry is seeing nationwide,” Dueser explained, “which is why we wanted to design a program that detects fraud before the money goes in the wrong hands.”
More dire situations come when the elderly are abused by a family member or a caregiver. While visiting with a First Financial personal banker, an elderly customer said that family members were stealing his money and leaving him alone with no way to call for help. The banker, recognizing this as a red flag of elder abuse, consulted with bank colleagues and called APS. The agency assessed him to be ill and in a deplorable living situation. APS was able to contact his daughter who lives out of state, and she immediately came to help. Since then, the customer has moved to a nursing home where he is getting proper care, his accounts have been changed to protect his finances and he is very thankful that someone cared enough to get him the help he needed.
First Financial is winning the admiration of many, as noted by the press in Texas and nationally. Business and community leaders are taking their deposits to First Financial Bank. “Our program is just getting better and better. A number of banks ask for our toolbox to start their own program, and, after a recent speech at a Rotary Club event, I had a guy tell me he opened a $3 million account because he was so impressed with our commitment to fight fraud.” Doing well by doing good, indeed.