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Nov. 19, 2019, 11:42 a.m. EST

This simple, effective program is preventing elder fraud and catching scammers

AARP’s pilot program is showing impressive results

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By Richard Eisenberg

A family member is often the perpetrator of financial abuse.

This article is reprinted by permission from NextAvenue.org .

Financial exploitation of older Americans seems to be getting worse. The Treasury Department reported a 17% increase in the number of cases in 2017 vs. 2016, the latest figures available. And the Center for Financial Services Innovation says at least 20% of older adults have been victims of elder financial fraud. But there’s one piece of encouraging news on this otherwise depressing front.

“It’s like fighting pollution. You want to get it at the point of production.”

Jilenne Gunther, national director of the BankSafe Initative

A new, six-month pilot program known as Bank Safe , created by AARP and evaluated by Virginia Tech’s Center for Gerontology, has shown impressive results preventing elder fraud and catching scammers.

Results from the BankSafe elder fraud program

More than 1,800 employees at nearly 500 bank and credit union branches from 82 financial institutions in 11 states received the Bank Safe  training since the program launched in May 2019. Among the results:

  • The Bank Safe  participants stopped nearly $1 million from leaving accounts of older customers — 16 times higher than the amount saved for customers by employees who didn’t take the training ($54,384).

  • One customer avoided losing $500,000 to a con artist.

  • After the training, which included interactive videos, real-life scenarios and skill-testing games, the Bank Safe  participants reported a sizable increase in confidence in recognizing, preventing and reporting cases of exploitation. In fact, it was four times greater than those who weren’t trained.

“We’re thrilled with the results,” said Debra Whitman, executive vice president and chief public policy officer at AARP. “Working with the [financial] industry, we are making it more difficult for individuals to take advantage of older adults.”

This kind of help can’t come quickly enough. Michele Kryger, head of elder and vulnerable client care at AIG, /zigman2/quotes/203700638/composite AIG +2.33%   told me that her firm’s recent elder financial abuse survey found that “fifty-three percent of Americans say elder financial abuse is likely to compromise their ability to live a long, financially secure life.”

What made it work so well?

I was curious what made the Bank Safe  training so effective at protecting the 3 million-plus customers of these institutions when many other banks and credit unions have been less successful preventing and curbing elder fraud. A new report by the National Community Reinvestment Coalition said: “Unfortunately, most cases of financial exploitation are unreported by financial institutions.”

Jilenne Gunther, national director of the Bank Safe  Initative at AARP Public Policy Institute, said the key was teaching employees how to spot the red flags of exploitation and then being empowered to report situations to their managers, to Adult Protective Services, and to law-enforcement officials.

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