Fighting Financial Elder Abuse

By Laine Crosby

How Montecito Bank & Trust fights financial elder abuse.

Mr. Glazer was first in the door at Montecito Bank & Trust. It was not unusual for the ninety-year-old man to come in early to visit with the staff. However this time, he was stoic. It was the third time that week he had withdrawn a small amount of cash, and the teller was concerned.

“I can’t talk about it,” Mr. Glazer responded. “It is a private matter.”

Fortunately for Mr. Glazer, his bank’s staff had been well trained in elder fraud and recognized these phrases as consistent with the Grandparent Scam. According to the Federal Trade Commission, the agency received more than 400,000 complaints reporting they were victims of impersonation scams in 2016. The Grandparent Scam is one of the most prevalent.

A cautionary tale for bankers.

The Grandparent Scam uses impersonation tactics to target and exploit older Americans.

To commit the crime, fraudsters call claiming to be a family member in serious trouble and in need of money immediately. The scammer might say he has been stranded or mugged and call in the middle of the night to add urgency to the confusion. Once the money is sent, the victim later finds out that it isn’t their grandchild. It’s a scammer.

Mr. Glazer’s teller caught the scam right away because she was trained to recognize the phrases, “It’s a family matter” and “I can’t talk about it.” Montecito Bank & Trust has seen five Grandparent Scams and a total of 41 scams this year targeting seniors, with a potential loss of $600,000. Fortunately, no actual losses were realized—thanks to their staff’s extensive training in fraud prevention.

Banker training is the key to catching scams that exploit vulnerable adults.

As marketers, we know that training is how the best organizations ensure consistent quality. Montecito Bank & Trust is no stranger to education. The staff there logs twenty or more hours of training a year in fraud scams—and most of these target senior citizens. Additionally, the bank holds a series of awareness activities during the holidays in anticipation of fraud attempts. These instructive programs are offered by the bank’s fraud department, whose staff developed its own internal education materials, including an online training program.

The bank’s tools have customized checklists and helpful client handouts for use in any fraud that might affect a senior. Employee training also combines materials from:

Extensive training is even more crucial in California, where banks cannot deny a customer’s access to funds, even for their own protection. Other states have protective rules, but in states like California, the law is silent on what actions a bank may take with respect to suspected elder financial abuse. Laurel Sykes, senior vice president and chief risk officer of Montecito Bank & Trust told us, “The best defense we have against scams is to train our employees to help convince the customer of the suspected fraud. Many times, because of their perceived sense of urgency, the victim doesn’t want to wait while we take the necessary steps to prove there is potential fraud.”

Creating savvy seniors is also part of Montecito’s plan to recognize fraud and ensure customer safety.

Montecito’s outreach combines staff training with essential elements of a marketing plan—distribution of information, expert spokespeople, and public relations tactics. The bank’s extensive training extends into its community with workshops for seniors in branches, retirement homes, housing authorities and even investment clubs. Both the District Attorney’s office and Santa Barbara’s Department of Social Services are also involved. Sessions examine typical schemes such as IRS, government, lottery, and sweetheart scams, as well as how to protect sensitive information. The bank also holds interviews on local radio stations and has weekly tips on Facebook to increase community awareness.

Montecito’s success is driven by the desire to give back to its communities. And this past year, the American Bankers Association awarded Montecito Bank & Trust in Santa Barbara, California, with the ABA Foundation Community Commitment Award for Protecting Older Americans. The award recognizes the bank’s efforts in making their communities better places to live and work.

What you need to know to report scams:

  • Verify the legitimacy of charitable organizations before donating funds.
  • Report sweepstakes or lottery scams to the U.S. Postal Service.
  • Work with your BSA department to file a Suspicious Activity Report with the Department of Justice, as it can often be a part of a larger scam. (Samples of fraudulent mailers).
  • Be sure to report scams to the FBI that originated on the Internet.
  • In the case of identity theft, be sure your customer files a report immediately to
  • Locate your local Adult Protective Services agency to report cases.
  • Contact local law enforcement if you suspect your customer’s safety is at risk.

May is Older American’s Month, and the ABA Foundation is offering free registration to its Safe Banking for Seniors program, a turnkey curriculum for bankers across the country to educate older Americans and their caregivers about elder financial abuse and how to prevent it.

Laine Crosby is a marketing and financial services writer, a New York Times bestselling author, and editor of ABA Bank Compliance magazine. Email: [email protected].