|Bank of the West in Los Altos Staff|
Local banks fight fraud
Banks are often the first line of defense against such fraud.
Amal Allan, branch manager for Bank of the West in Los Altos, has dealt with three cases of elder financial abuse or fraud within the past month. According to Allan, such crimes are on the rise. In the past five years, she has seen an uptick in financial elderly abuse among her clients.
“It’s unfortunately one of the fastest-growing crimes,” she said. “When they get hit with elderly abuse and identity theft, they’re so vulnerable. You feel like you’ve been violated in some way.”
Elderly clients are especially susceptible to abuse from caretakers or family members – the most common suspects in a financial abuse case. Allan said her staff is trained to identify and respond to signs of financial abuse. Any transactions that seem uncharacteristic of the senior client prompt further investigation from bank staff to determine whether the transaction is legitimate.
“If the elderly abuse case involves a caretaker or a family member, we first and foremost separate the elderly from the caretaker or family member,” Allan said. “We then ask the elderly clients whether or not they are comfortable making this transaction.”
If the senior is not comfortable and the staff member deems it necessary, the bank initiates a thorough process to alert the authorities. Allan or her staff notifies a corporate investigator, the police and Santa Clara County Adult Protective Services (APS) of the abuse. Other banks follow similar procedures when they suspect financial abuse.
“We are required to notify APS when we suspect one of our clients is a victim of financial elder abuse,” said Diana Olveira, director of marketing at Heritage Bank of Commerce, which has a branch in Los Altos. “In fact, anyone can contact APS if they suspect financial exploitation of a friend or family member.”
Guarding against abuse
Reports of elder abuse commonly come from financial institutions and family members, according to Sgt. Mark Bautista of the Los Altos Police Department. Members of the department’s investigative unit will look into the case, and lost assets may be restored in part or fully in a restitution process via the courts or the district attorney.
“The elderly person should designate a trusted family member or friend with the power of attorney regarding their financial accounts before they are unable to make their own decisions,” Bautista said.
Bautista and Allan both advise people to keep a close watch on older family members’ accounts for suspicious transactions.
“Have a family member look at the elderly client’s statement and ask, ‘Are these things habitual?’” Allan said. “If the client usually writes checks and suddenly she’s doing debit card purchases from Taco Bell or Target, you need to take action.”
While dealing with financial abuse can be an exhaustive and often frightening experience for the victims and their families, Allan asserts that she and her team will do everything in their power to help their clients.
“The clients need to know that I’m going to walk them through this, step by step,” she said. “For me, it’s extra work, but I never turn it down.”
To report financial abuse, call Adult Protective Services at (408) 975-4900.
For more information on elder abuse, visit nia.nih.gov/health/publication/elder-abuse.
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Local banks are protecting seniors from financial scams