Helping Seniors Realize They Are Being Scammed

Recording and other resources now available

It is estimated that  over $140 billion is scammed from our seniors each year through fraudulent phone calls, mail, and social media exchanges. The Cooperative Credit Union Association (CCUA) recently hosted a webinar focused on why seniors are especially susceptible to these tactics and how credit unions, especially tellers and branch staff, can help prevent this financial exploitation.

Melissa Grenier, Regional Manager, NH Alzheimer’s Association, provided an insight into how diseases that cause dementia, including Alzheimer’s, progress over time, destroying brain cells and are ultimately fatal. Noting that 1/3 of people over 85-years old have Alzheimer’s, Grenier shared some challenges associated with the accompanying decrease in awareness and judgement that tellers and other front-line staff may face. 

Webinar Panel

A panel of experts from four states provided insight into scams trending regionally and nationally,

  • Sunny Mulligan Shea, Victim Witness Advocate, Elder Abuse and Exploitation Unit, NH Department of Justice;
  • Regina Schoenberg, Deputy Director of Consumer Protection, Chair, Senior Protection Initiative, State of Delaware Department of Justice;
  • Mickaela Driscoll, Elder Abuse Investigator, Office of the Attorney General, State of Rhode Island;
  • Bryan Townsend II, Assistant Attorney General, Consumer Protection and Antitrust Bureau, Elder Abuse and Exploitation Unit, NH Department of Justice;
  • Michael Festa, Massachusetts State Director, AARP; and
  • Terry Choate Jr, CEO/President, Blue U Defense.

Shoenberg noted that, with about 30% of seniors living alone, the isolation accompanying pandemic restrictions has spurred an increase in ‘Romance’ scams- with the scammers preying on the loneliness of many seniors. Commending credit union staff for taking the lead in combatting elder financial exploitation, she urged them to continue to forge relationships with their members and understand changes in behavior and/or communication.

Driscoll shared that the pandemic has also triggered a rise in phone scams of all types, including the ‘Grandparent’ scam – capitalizing on the confusion as well as loneliness of seniors. Driscoll noted that Rhode Island recently passed a law that will allow financial institutions to place a hold on transactions is financial exploitation is suspected. She urged credit unions to become familiar with both federal and local statutes designed to protect older adults from financial exploitation.

Mulligan Shea and Townsend urged credit unions to work collaboratively with each other as well as local adult protective services agencies and not to be afraid to intervene on behalf of their vulnerable members. Mulligan Shea also cautioned staff not to underestimate the ability of scammers to brainwash their targets, while Townsend urged them to report anything that appears out of the ordinary routine of their members.

Festa agreed, urging credit unions to leverage resources such as their local AARP for education on financial exploitation, noting that AARP would host a Town Hall Discussion to raise awareness among members and provides Bank Safe training for staff.

Choate, whose company specializes in organizational and personal safety, cautioned credit unions to be aware that many times a victim of financial exploitation is also subject to physical abuse. He stressed that, as technology explodes and expands, financial exploitation is a concern to all ages.

In the end, the group agreed that credit union tellers and branch staff many times serve as the “line in the sand” - a last resort among an array of efforts designed to protect today’s seniors from becoming a victim to a financial scam. Knowing the resources available, as well as what to do if you suspect financial exploitation, can help in the escalating war against scammers.

Watch the webinar recording, view the presentation slides, and contact the panelists.