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Elder Fraud Epidemic: How Banks Are Failing Seniors

Saddest is that, in many cases, elder fraud could be stopped early, perhaps even prevented, if financial institutions took a hard look at transactions involving vulnerable elderly customers, say the experts. Yes, bankers sometimes are crooks, but the institutions also have account histories, going back decades in many cases, with their senior customers and that information could be used to quickly flag irregularities.

"Financial institutions could play an important role here," said Steve Starnes, a financial advisor with Savant Capital Management, who said he has worked with a number of clients suffering serious cognitive decline - which, he stressed, is when most elder fraud occurs.

He added that - between financial institutions and more alert and involved family members - probably 90% of elder fraud could be stopped.

That's because much of this crime is crude. It's often as blatant as writing checks to oneself and holding the senior's hand as he or she signs the instruments. Another common ploy: requesting a debit card on an account that has never had one and then putting in frequent visits to ATMs.

One state - Maryland in 2012 -- passed a law requiring financial institutions to report suspicious transactions involving senior citizens. How's it working? "The vast majority of our seniors still come into the branch to bank," said Frank Moran, director of security at Sandy Spring Bank in Olney, Md. "Our front line staff may notice that something is different."

Like what? Probably the most prominent red flag is when the senior comes in to add another signature to the account, but equally worrisome are withdrawals that depart - by virtue of amounts or frequency - from past behavior.

Either way, when tellers notice a change they are taught - in an annual training for all employees at Sandy Spring as well as in the new employee orientation - to report it upward. And reports come in. Sandy Spring, said Moran, has passed on perhaps 20 reports in the last year to Maryland's Adult Protective Services.

Institutions in other states generally are far more passive. Some experts believe that is wrong.

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