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Tuesday, June 14, 2016

COA Board of Trustees member reflects on elder financial abuse

Cyndy Wright
COA board vice-chairman Cyndy Wright is Commercial Banking Officer for Park National Bank

COA board vice-chairman Cyndy Wright is Commercial Banking Officer for Park National Bank. We asked her to share her experience with financial exploitation of older adults.

As a banking professional I have worked in many communities where there is a large population of seniors. These customers are so wonderful! They come into the Banking Center branches on a regular basis. We get to know them and their families. I think they come not only for banking, but also a social time. Sometimes loneliness brings them to the bank, not just cashing a check or making a deposit.

Some time ago when I was a teller, I experienced firsthand what elder financial abuse looks like. A gentle, older man who lived alone in an apartment near our branch became the target of a greedy family who befriended him. He had never been married. He had a sister and a nephew in town but I got the keen sense that they did not visit often. Or perhaps he didn’t want them to know “his business.” 

Every week he would cash small checks but suddenly, he came in more frequently and began to cash larger and larger amounts. I observed him to be more withdrawn. There were no ready smiles, even for his favorite teller. He just wanted to get in and get out. He was accompanied some times by a young man, a “friend.”

We watched as the balance in his savings account began to dwindle. There were notes in the memo section of his checks for “car repairs” and “loan.” The perpetrators became so bold as to begin coming into the bank themselves to cash his checks. Then they started calling, pretending to be the customer to change the address for statements, ordering debit cards, and so on.

We tried to talk with the man. He insisted he was fine. I called Adult Protective Services and he refused their help. Everyone knew something was terribly amiss. Finally, the perpetrators came in to the bank one too many times and I called the police. Upon further investigation it was determined that these “friends” had stolen thousands of dollars and had threatened the elderly gentleman’s life.

Fortunately, this story has a happy ending. The elderly gentleman’s family became involved with him and his finances. They found him a safer place to live where he was not so isolated.

Elder financial abuse is not new but it is certainly more present in the news and discussed more readily. It knows no socio-economic bounds and typically is perpetrated by family and friends. It is so important that we all take responsibility to hold accountable those who are in positions of power over our loved ones. Laws are changing -- as they should -- to hold those responsible for elder abuse to higher levels of accountability. 

I know it was very hard for me to make that first phone call to Adult Protective Services. If there is a next time, I will not hesitate. Neither should you.  

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