By Lina Martinez

Older folk are not always the wisest all of the time. At some point, a person’s ability to make practical financial decisions diminishes once they get past their mid-50s. Some studies indicate that this is the age when physical and mental deterioration start to set in. Seniors begin to exhibit signs of cognitive decline or increase their chances of developing some form of a neurological disease, such as Alzheimer’s. As a result, and sadly, they become easy targets for scammers.

Photo courtesy of Flickr

Photo courtesy of Flickr

Traditionally, the responsibility of keeping one’s accounts safe lies with the account holder. When it comes to seniors, protecting their financial assets becomes trickier as abuse and exploitation can also be committed by somebody they trust such as a relative, friend, business partner or caregiver.

Banks have to step in to help them apply for a bank account safely and protect their assets from potential fraudsters, scam artists and financial exploiters. Here are a few examples of what some banks are doing to protect their senior members.

1. Provide age-friendly measures

Some banks and organizations are helping citizens become savvier when it comes to making banking transactions. In the US, for instance, the Senior Planner is offering “Ready, Set, Bank,”-  a course aimed at helping seniors learn more about online banking.

2. Train staff on how to handle seniors

Banks can help prevent fraud by looking for signs of financial exploitation. This involves observing the account member’s financial transactions and seeing if there are any unusual changes in their banking activity. Tellers can try to ask what the account holder is planning to do with the money if the individual is making large withdrawals all of a sudden.

Staff can also be trained to look for any cognitive changes. Scammers and fraudsters are not picky when it comes to selecting their victims. They choose individuals who are gullible or vulnerable to exploitation.

People who suffer from dementia or a similar mental ailment are likelier to make poor financial choices as compared to their younger counterparts. Tellers and banking staff can be taught to look for signs, identify who are at risk, and know what to do if the situation arises.

Bank employees may not be related to the senior account holder, but they can still show their concern for an individual’s health. Once a high-risk individual has been identified, the person can be referred to a doctor or a social worker so the person can seek help or assistance.

3. Develop programs to identify fraud

Banks can take it a step further and develop software that can monitor account activity and detect any sharp changes in withdrawals or spending. Staff can use such programs to identify high-risk customers, monitor banking activity and provide financial advice when needed.

4. Use voice recognition software

As people age, they may have more difficulty remembering specific information such as PIN codes and transaction passwords. Voice recognition software can be used to take the load off of memorizing banking information without preventing them from accessing their funds..

5. Limiting power of attorney

Knowing when to step into a situation is a tricky issue for banks. Some seniors give relatives, a close friend, a caregiver or guardian full power of attorney over their accounts, and they are given free rein on what to do with the money. Having full power of attorney provides an opening for unscrupulous individuals to financially abuse the elderly.

Banks can choose to prevent a person’s access to a senior’s account. However, not offering this feature at all can limit an individual’s sense of autonomy as well. By limiting a relative’s or guardian’s access to the elderly person’s account, banks can provide a bit of protection for account holders while reducing the chances of financial abuse.

Although new scams are developed on a regular basis, they are based on old, predictable human behaviors. Raising awareness, training staff and developing monitoring programs are some ways banks can help their senior account holders in managing risks and to not become future victims.

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