Tackling elder financial fraud, one case at a time

June 20, 2017 | GET MORE : Life

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Sometimes it's the transactions that don't go through that matter the most.

A 92-year-old customer recently drove in a panic to her local U.S. Bank branch in La Grande, Oregon.

She told one of the bankers that she needed to make a Western Union wire transfer – quickly – because her grandson was in trouble.

Fortunately for that customer, the employees in the branch were all too familiar with the many scams targeting the elderly. They asked her several questions, which helped her think through the situation more calmly, and ultimately, she didn't wire money to the fraudsters.

"She was scared to death when she came in here that her grandson was in prison," said Stacey Candlish, branch manager for the La Grande and Elgin, Oregon, branches, in a video recounting the experience. "She probably shouldn't have been driving."

Candlish, who stresses to her employees how to recognize red flags for elder financial exploitation, is passionate about treating customers like family. "I tell them, 'This is your grandma. How would you help her?' We’re here not only to serve our customers, but to protect them as well."

Normally it takes only about three questions before customers' fear eases and they think more clearly about what just happened to them, she said.

"The electronic movement of money is the first set of red flags," Candlish said. "If an elderly person asks for Western Union or wire transfers, see if the location of the wire makes sense. And ask them, 'Do you feel safe? Do you know who you are speaking to on the phone?'"

The National Council on Aging reports that elder financial abuse and fraud costs older Americans $36.5 billion a year, which is why U.S. Bank works to draw attention to the problem during Elder Financial Exploitation Awareness Month in June, and all year-round.

U.S. Bank has a strong enterprise operations policy on elder and vulnerable adult financial exploitation, designed to comply with federal, state and local laws, regulations and known practices in the banking industry. It provides guidelines on indicators of fraud, ways to prevent it and how to report it, among other things. U.S. Bank also conducts elder financial exploitation education campaigns and provides online reference materials for employees.

Candlish said her branches, in rural Oregon, have seen a big uptick in elder financial exploitation in the last two to three years – typically at least one case a week. That increase motivated Candlish to conduct a financial fraud seminar in April at the Grande Ronde Retirement Residence in La Grande, where her grandmother, Barbara (pictured with Candlish above), is a resident. Candlish responded to a Facebook ad from Grande Ronde, looking for experts to speak about different topics to the residents.

"I do see my grandma often, and knew it was a problem there," Candlish said. "I started by talking to them about what it is, what it means. All of them had had so many different calls, so it was great to see them talk to each other about what they'd experienced."

Nathan Larson, marketing director at Grande Ronde, said the seminar, one of the community's most well-attended, has already helped residents. "After Stacey came, a lady came up to me and said, 'I think someone just tried to scam me.' Someone had called her with a recording and she hung up on them," Larson said.

The first presentation went so well that Larson has asked Candlish to come back monthly for other financial education seminars. Next up for the residents is a seminar on budgeting. Candlish plans to bring in other experts from the community, such as attorneys she knows from the Rotary Club, to talk about estate planning and other financial topics.

"All the residents love her … she's authentic," Larson said. "It's not about her. She lives for other people. She genuinely cares about other people."

Candlish said the experience has been rewarding for her, knowing that even little things can make a big difference in people's lives.

"I want to help make them feel like they're not alone, and to make sure they have a safe person in their lives to help them with their finances," she said. "I want them to be proactive and make sure things are set up before it's too late."

Heather Draper is a member of U.S. Bank's communications team. Visit U.S. Bank on YouTube for a video about Stacey's experience.