According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), millions of elderly citizens are targeted annually with some form of financial fraud, and many of these attempts are successful. It has been estimated that seniors lose approximately $3 billion per year as a result of these scams, which are becoming more widespread and sophisticated. Surprisingly, much of the criminal activity is initiated by a friend or family member. A recent study by the University of Southern California revealed that 55% of respondents reporting any type of elder abuse categorized those acts as financial, and that family members were the most alleged perpetrators of elder financial abuse.

With these facts in mind, banks should maintain heightened sensitivity around transactions that involve elderly clients, particularly if these clients have historically managed their own finances and may be exhibiting signs of cognitive decline. Increased vigilance, in general, can assist in uncovering fraud.

Knowing the customer, coupled with a comprehensive employee training program, can act as a strong front-line tactic to help banks prevent and expose elder financial abuse.

Here are some best practices for recognizing “at-risk” clients:

  • Be on the lookout for non-family members being added to banking or investment accounts.
  • Monitor large money transfers and changes in spending patterns, as these could be signs that some form of abuse is occurring. A senior’s spending habits are often predictable in frequency, volume and payees.
  • Be alert for large amounts of funds exiting accounts to payees who had not been previously paid in any manner.
  • Keep detailed notes in the form of dated, journal-type entries, recording any spending or personal behavior that seems unusual. These notes would be in addition to those kept on risk tolerance, goals, objectives, etc.
  • Follow up with clients via phone or email to discuss any sudden financial decisions that seem out of character.
  • In addition to making personal contact, encourage the client to engage an independent attorney to assist in their financial matters.
  • Understand the laws that apply to the financial abuse of an elder client. Follow prescribed protocols if any illegal activity is suspected.
  • Implement internal procedures to elevate circumstances which may present the need for further inquiry and analysis to the appropriate decision-makers.

“It’s important not just to have a system in place to detect elder financial abuse, but to also act on situations where potential fraud or malicious intent has been identified,” said Kristin Roger, vice president and head of financial institutions at Travelers. “We know banks want to serve as trusted advisors to their customers, and by taking simple steps, they can better protect their customers from potential financial harm.”

Elder financial fraud is on the rise and counts as one of the more heinous abuses of trust that senior citizens might endure. Along with the financial damage inflicted on customers, incidents of elder financial fraud can cause serious reputational harm. Therefore, implementing a sound method of prevention, detection, identification and reporting of this criminal behavior is paramount.

Travelers is committed to managing and mitigating risks and exposures, and does so backed by financial stability and a dedicated team — from underwriters to claim professionals – whose mission is to insure and protect a company’s assets. For more information, visit

Travelers is a WBA Associate Member

By Lorenzo Cruz

Financial exploitation of the elderly population is a growing and widespread problem domestically and globally. It is difficult to comprehend that an individual would deliberately prey upon senior citizens for significant monetary gain, but financial exploitation has become a pervasive problem frequently costing seniors billions of dollars worldwide. On June 15, World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, bankers are encouraged to join WBA in raising awareness to help prevent the financial exploitation of elders across the country.

What to Look For

Often, criminals devise deceptive schemes to disguise the criminal activity that seniors often fall victim to. Some of the common frauds affecting seniors include romance scams, government impostor scams, friend impostor scams, and online shopping scams. Fraud reports filed with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reported that seniors’ losses totaled $600 million in 2020. The costliest schemes were romance scams with reported losses of $139 million in 2020. However, the vast majority of elder financial exploitation goes unreported.

What is more disconcerting is that sometimes the criminal masterminds could be the durable power of attorney (POA) like a family member or close friend. A family member is the perpetrator in over 60% of these financial abuse cases, according to a University of Southern California study. The National Council on Aging (NCOA) estimates that approximately 10% of Americans above the age of 60 have succumbed to some form of elder abuse. Several of the warning signs to be on the watch out for related to financial abuse are sudden changes in seniors’ personal finances, uncharacteristic bank withdrawals, checks written out as loans or gifts, lost property, and unpaid bills.

Seniors can protect their finances by maintaining accurate financial records, never providing personal information over the phone, getting a second opinion on financial matters from an attorney or financial advisor, and selecting a trustworthy person to assist in managing personal finances. If family or friends suspect financial elder exploitation, talk to the victim about the possibility of fraud and report suspected abuse to adult protective services, law enforcement, and banks. While banks are restricted from sharing specific account information, they can review potential abuse and report suspicious criminal behavior.

Actions WBA is Taking

Last July, South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster signed a law to protect vulnerable adults from fraudulent financial transactions. The new law allows financial institutions and financial service companies to decline, delay, or report transactions that are suspected of elder financial abuse for vulnerable adults 55 years or older. At that time, South Carolina joined 31 other states that passed similar legislation.

In the Badger State, the Wisconsin Bankers Association (WBA) pursued a similar path to protect seniors from this insidious crime wave and reintroduced an elder financial exploitation bill in 2021. SB 19/AB 46 and SB 20/AB 45 co-authored by State Senator Pat Testin and State Representative John Macco provided financial institutions and securities companies with  the tools to better protect their vulnerable adults and senior customers from fraud and abuse. The bills would allow financial institutions and securities companies to pause transactions suspected of financial elder fraud and would allow them to collaborate with the customer, a trustworthy list of individuals, and law enforcement to determine if the transactions should be approved. While the potential elder abuse transaction is on hold, the remaining funds in the account would still be available for other transactions. The bills also would permit reporting requirements, provide liability protections, and allow refusal of POA in suspected elder fraud cases.

As the elder fraud legislation moved through the legislative process, WBA’s advocacy efforts saw mixed success on the bills before the state legislature. WBA actively lobbied the issue and passed the elder fraud legislation in the assembly on a bipartisan vote with an overwhelming majority. Unfortunately, the bill stalled in the Senate Committee on Financial Institutions and Revenue. Despite falling short on passing an elder financial exploitation law in Wisconsin, WBA made tremendous progress on the issue. WBA’s government relations team remains committed to enacting legislation that would provide banks with the tools needed to protect seniors from costly fraud. Passage of the elder financial exploitation legislation remains a high priority for WBA during the next legislative session, which begins in January of 2023.

Join us in Madison for WBA’s annual Trust Conference

On May 25, 2022, WBA will be hosting its annual Trust Conference for the benefit of those involved with trust and estate planning. The one-day event held at the WBA office will assist trust professionals in staying up to date on upcoming changes in regulations, the economy, and overall trust department functions.

The conference will also feature a general session on elder abuse and undue influence by Jonathan Ingrisano and Nicholas Bezier of Godfrey & Kahn, S.C. Trust bankers and wealth managers of all levels will benefit from this session on spotting and responding to potential financial abuse of their elderly customers.

According to the World Health Organization, one in six individuals 60 years or older have experienced some form of abuse. Of this, less than 20% of financial abuse is reported by the individual or their proxies. “It is a growing problem that we can only expect to get worse as our population ages,” said Ingrisano.

This troubling trend is not only on the rise in Wisconsin, but throughout the country. As fraudsters become more sophisticated (even so that celebrities such as Stan Lee have endured financial abuse), it is important that bankers know the signs, understand their rights, and feel confident in approaching the situation.

As elder financial abuse cases rise, bankers have taken on the role of trusted advisors and observers. Trust bankers especially develop unique professional and personal relationships with their customers and have a greater ability to notice patterns, spot questionable distributions, and identify unexpected changes in their repeat customers patterns and behaviors.

“I want trust bankers to know they are empowered to do what they think is right, and their hands are not tied,” said Ingrisano. In this, the session will include advice from Godfrey & Kahn, S.C. representatives on reporting financial abuse or fraud, the tools and resources for trust bankers to consult as they work through cases, and important red flags to notice both in elderly customers and/or personal relatives experiencing such abuse.

In addition, trust bankers will also have the opportunity to learn more about how their paper trail observations on the front end can impact the actions taken by department heads or legal counsel on the back end. Through referrals or reports, bankers will learn of the avenues available to protect vulnerable members of their communities.

WBA’s Trust Conference is approved for 5.25 CTFA credit through the American Bankers Association (ABA). Register now to take advantage of this opportunity to stay ahead of upcoming regulatory changes, maintain your certification through ABA, as well as gain insight on how to better serve your community. Please contact Miranda Helt, WBA’s assistant director – education, at with questions regarding the conference.

By Lorenzo Cruz

March Madness marks the start of the NCAA basketball tournament and the conclusion to an active 2022 legislative session for the Wisconsin Bankers Association (WBA) government relations (GR) team.

A Successful Legislative Session in the Books

WBA successfully defeated two bills which would have negatively impacted the banking industry. AB 478/SB 451 would have broadened the powers of credit unions by allowing for: non-member participation in loans, the ability to issue and offer supplemental forms of capital for all credit unions, the automatic adoption of federally chartered credit union activities or powers for state-chartered credit unions, and the broadening of the authority of credit unions on holding property. During the negotiations, it became evident that the priority for the Wisconsin Credit Union League (WCUL) was their supplemental capital change which contributed to the demise of the bill. WBA effectively lobbied and defeated the bills in the Assembly and Senate.

Another piece of legislation that drew a great amount of WBA’s lobbying attention was a bill related to interchange fees. AB 587/SB 572 would have prohibited the application of the interchange fee to the tax portion of the credit card transaction and would have provided a penalty for a violation. A retailer coalition advocated aggressively for the legislative change and WBA, WCUL, and several credit card companies opposed the effort. If passed, the bill would have required credit card companies to implement a split tender transaction for purchasing products or services, which means customers would have to swipe their credit card for the retail sum purchase and then pay with either cash or check for the tax portion of the transaction. WBA warned legislators of the cost shift, customer confusion and frustration that could follow from the change. The bills died in the Senate and Assembly Financial Institutions Committees.

Other bills worth noting are AB 596/SB 596 related to banking modernization and AB 45/SB 19 and AB 46/ SB 20 related to elder fraud. The banking modernization bill would have removed outdated regulation and other impediments to banking and the elder fraud bill would have provided banks with more tools to help protect older customers from fraud and abuse. The legislative proposals passed overwhelmingly in one House but then failed to be acted upon in committee or placed on the calendar for a floor vote. In some ways, the bills became collateral damage from the credit union battle. WBA did make considerable progress on both issues and will collaborate with legislators to reintroduce similar bills in the next legislative session.

Looking Ahead to Next Year

With the end of the March session, WBA GR shifts the team’s focus to political fundraising, member outreach, and strategic planning for the 2023 session. Many of the legislative issues identified above will return and be debated in the next state budget or advanced as separate pieces of legislation. WBA needs to prepare and lay the groundwork for the fight ahead on these critical public policy initiatives.

All members — big, medium, and small — must be more engaged financially in the political process and committed to grassroots advocacy to advance the industry’s priorities. Political campaigns have continued to trend upwards in cost, and the 2022 fall elections should see more spending records broken for state and federal races. With control for the East Wing in play and majorities at stake in both State and Federal Houses, expect hundreds of millions of dollars to be spent in Wisconsin which has become a battleground state for the rest of the country. WBA can ill afford to be a spectator. Sitting on the sidelines runs the risk of electing anti-banking candidates which could have severe negative consequences for our industry. It is imperative to have the political funds in place for WBA to support pro-banking incumbent legislators and challengers. Individual members are strongly encouraged to give to the Wisbankpac or Alliance of Bankers for Wisconsin (ABW) Conduit and corporations are urged to contribute generously to WBA’s issue advocacy fund. For more information go to

Senior holding credit card

By Paul Gores

An elderly bank customer says she needs to send $10,000 to her grandson, who called from Mexico frantically claiming that’s how much money he needs to get out of jail.

A man suddenly has started appearing with his father-in-law on visits to the bank, assisting the senior, who sometimes seems nervous or confused, with making larger-than-normal withdrawals.

A man in his late 70s states he was notified he just won a lottery, but  needs to send money to cover the taxes before he can receive his prize.

Scenarios like these are among red flags bankers watch for as they try to prevent their customers from falling victim to the growing crime of financial exploitation of older adults.

According to the FBI, each year millions of elderly Americans are victimized by some type of financial fraud or confidence scheme,  draining seniors’ bank accounts of more than $3 billion.

In Wisconsin, a survey last year for the Wisconsin Department of Health Services indicated that more than $31 million was lost through financial exploitation of the elderly, said April DeValkenaere, a white collar crime paralegal for the Waukesha County District Attorney’s Office.

The problem is even worse than the available numbers indicate, she said. It’s estimated that only one in 44 cases of elder financial exploitation is ever reported, according to the National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA).

That means almost every bank has customers who are in jeopardy of being duped by a scam or being exploited by a family member or caregiver.

“I do not have statistics for how large the problem is in Wisconsin, however we have eight locations, from Waunakee to Green Bay, and we have seen cases of elder abuse in all of our communities,” said Theresa Weckwerth, vice president and enterprise risk manager for Berlin-based Fortifi Bank. “No community is too large or too small to be free from elder abuse. I believe it is everywhere. The more we can educate our elders, the stronger we will be in fighting elder abuse as a whole.”

The list of online, email, and phone scams that target senior citizens is long, but they don’t account for most of the money lost through financial crimes that exploit the elderly, said DeValkenaere.

“In the overall scheme of things, scams of older adults are only 10% of the actual theft from older adults,” DeValkenaere said. “The other 90% of theft from older adults are actually from a trusted individual — someone they know and trust. Their family members, caregivers, powers of attorney, guardians, neighbors, or loved ones, all of those people essentially account for 90% of elder financial exploitation.”

Many banks train their employees to be on the lookout for changes in customer patterns and routines that might indicate someone has gained undue influence over them and their financial decisions. But it’s not always easy to detect.

“Sometimes if you have that overly helpful family member,” said Debby Bartolerio, chief operating officer at First Citizens State Bank in Whitewater. “Sometimes that’s good because they are actually assisting the elder. But sometimes, that is a family member who’s taking advantage of them. And that’s kind of a hard thing to determine, which side of the fence are they on.”

Weckwerth said caregivers — family members or a non-relatives hired to care for them — sometimes take advantage of the elderly.

“The victim is sometimes made to feel guilty if they try to confront the situation, or afraid that their needs will not be met if they say something,” said Weckwerth, who is a member of the Wisconsin Bankers Association’s Financial Crimes Committee. “Many times, the caregiver will make them feel like they ‘owe’ them for all they do, or threaten to not provide the basic things that are needed such as groceries or healthcare.”

Bartolerio, who also is a member of WBA’s Financial Crimes Committee, said a community bank like hers, where there are many longtime customers whom tellers have gotten to know, might be in a better position than some to identify trouble.

Tom Mews, president of FNC Bank in New Richmond, also said a community bank may have an edge in scouting out trouble because of the relationships the bank has with customers.

“We know our customers,” he said. “We’re not simply relying on a computer database to kick up red flags. We know what normal transactions are because we see them on a regular basis. We can spot these things just because we know who our customers are.”

According to the FBI, seniors become targets of financial crooks because they tend to be trusting and polite. In addition, they often have financial savings and good credit.

The FBI also says seniors may be less inclined to report fraud because they don’t know how, or they may be too ashamed at having been scammed.

An elderly victim of a romance scam, for instance, might be too embarrassed about being taken in by a scammer via an online dating service.

“We also see romance/companion scams where the elderly are lonely and seeking companionship,” Weckwerth said. “This is generally someone conning the elderly into sending them money for travel, or expenses to keep them out of trouble.”

A recent article by Katherine Skiba of detailed how elderly customers of the online dating service lost hundreds of thousands of dollars to fake suitors.

DeValkenaere said many seniors are lonely, but sometimes too trusting. She cited “social isolation” as the source of their involvement in romance scams.

DeValkenaere said she believes banks generally have been doing a good job at keeping their eyes open for financial exploitation of the elderly.

“I think a lot of the financial institutions are training their people very well in regards to what to watch out for and some of these red flags,” she said.

Mews listed circumstances that should raise eyebrows for bankers who handle accounts for the elderly:

  • Sudden changes in bank account or banking practice
  • Unexplained withdrawal of large sums of money by a person accompanying the elder
  • Sudden non-sufficient fund activity
  • The inclusion of additional names on an elder’s bank signature card
  • Unexplained changes in power of attorney, will, or other legal documents
  • Missing checks or money
  • Debit transactions that are inconsistent for the older adult
  • Unauthorized withdrawal of the elder’s funds using the elder’s ATM card
  • Abrupt changes in financial documents
  • Unexplained disappearance of funds or valuable possessions
  • Unpaid bills despite the availability of adequate financial resources
  • Discovery of an elder’s signature being forged for financial transactions or for the title of possessions
  • Sudden appearance of previously uninvolved relatives claiming their rights to an elder’s affairs and possessions.

DeValkenaere said some scams against seniors are seasonal.

“Like the imposter scam. We’ve seen a lot of those lately because this is the enrollment period for Medicare. Fraudsters are calling saying they’re from Medicare or they’re from Social Security and you have to pay this money up front so that we can register you for your insurance. Victims are convinced they need to give money to these people to keep or acquire Medicare coverage,” DeValkenaere said. “Right now, Medicare scams are huge. Come the spring, it’s going to be IRS imposter scams. They’re huge in the spring because it’s tax time.”

In the hopes of tricking the elderly into turning over personal financial information or sending them money, crooks also pretend to be from a government agency.

“Now they are impersonating law enforcement, saying you missed jury duty and if you don’t pay up, we’re going to arrest you or send you to jail, that kind of thing,” DeValkenaere said. “People don’t realize that they’re scams. They are trying to abide by the authorities. It’s just the generation they grew up in. But if our younger tellers have no idea that these scams are even out there, or what they mean, or the timeframe of year they should be watching for them, they can’t educate their customers on it.”

Mews, chair of WBA’s Government Relations Committee, is among bankers hoping state legislation that would let a bank delay a transaction when fraud is suspected will advance and become law.

The bills, AB 45 and AB 46, would allow qualified individuals to temporarily pause transactions where they suspect elder fraud is taking place, refuse power of attorney in certain situations, and allow seniors to name a trusted contact as an extra layer of protection.

“I think community representatives have a really good handle on what should be paused and what shouldn’t be,” Mews said.

The bills also provide legal protection to bankers acting in good faith to prevent elder financial fraud. Both bills passed on voice votes in the full Assembly in May, but since have stalled.

“This would help us by allowing banks to refuse or delay any transaction when we suspect exploitation or abuse,” said Weckwerth.

DeValkenaere, who was a member of the Wisconsin Attorney General’s Task Force on Elder Abuse in 2018, said the legislation is needed.

“It gives the financial institution a pause button to start the investigation as to whether or not this specific transaction is fraudulent,” she said. “So if they are trying to wire $20,000 out of country, the financial institution can hit pause and they can do their own investigation. They can involve other people, meaning Adult Protective Services, law enforcement. They can look into some other options.”

Bankers and experts say the desire for companionship and unfamiliarity with technology contribute to the risk of fraud for the elderly. That vulnerability puts banks in a special role for protecting their customers.

“This is why it is so important for banks and other trusted advisers to continue to educate elders on fraud and how to identify it,” Weckwerth said. “It is important that we know our clients and help them feel comfortable talking to us. They should never be afraid to ask questions of their bankers or talk to us. Many times, the fraud is caught in the front line from a conversation or other indicators that lead us to believe there is a problem and ask more questions.”

Paul Gores is a journalist who covered business news for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for 20 years.


Elder fraud — just the thought is distressing! Isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic worsened the problem, leading to an increase in elder scams and theft. It’s so important to be able to identify it, react appropriately, and provide help to your accountholders when possible. Learn how!

Webinar Highlights:

  • Identify the warning signs of a senior person in trouble
  • Understand unusual transactions a senior citizen may conduct and why
  • Know who is most likely to take advantage of a senior citizen
  • Determine the organizations you can turn to for help
  • Train staff how to separate a problem party from the senior citizen
  • React appropriately when a senior citizen threatens a staff member

Webinar Details
One of the toughest problems for a financial institution is when a call arrives, or a person walks in, with a potential elder fraud issue. If a family member is a victim, the question may become, “why didn’t you do anything to protect my mother?” If it is the victim themselves, their tears will tear you apart when they relay the story of the romance scam, lottery scam, or caretaker who took advantage of them. Criminals know who they want to target and have found ways to get close to their victims. They know exactly how to manipulate targets and don’t care what happens to them after the scam. Many victims will not admit it or are unwilling to prosecute the criminals because they don’t want anyone to know they were deceived. This webinar will review how the attacks work and how to get the victims help if possible.

Who Should Attend?
This informative session is directed to frontline staff, tellers, risk managers, loan origination staff, security officers, and management personnel who handle senior financial exploitation.

Take-Away Toolkit

  • List of organizations that can help with elder financial exploitation
  • Incident report form
  • Security tips
  • Employee training log
  • Interactive quiz
  • PDF of slides and speaker’s contact info for follow-up questions
  • Attendance certificate provided to self-report CE credits

NOTE: All materials are subject to copyright. Transmission, retransmission, or republishing of any webinar to other institutions or those not employed by your agency is prohibited. Print materials may be copied for eligible participants only.


Barry Thompson. CRCM – Thompson Consulting Group, LLC

Barry Thompson is an international speaker, trainer, consultant, and writer. He is a security and compliance “guru” for a leading national training organization and regularly presents security conferences for trade groups — he has trained over 54,000 financial professionals.

Thompson is recognized worldwide, presenting in Brussels, Belgium to European bankers on internal fraud; at the United Nations on identity theft; and to Japanese bankers on bank security. Thompson has worked in the financial services industry for over four decades, and has held the positions of security officer, compliance officer, treasurer, senior vice president, and executive vice president. He has handled over 900 security cases and has been involved with investigations and prosecutions at the federal, state, and local levels. Thompson is the author of 101 Security Tips for the Beginning Security Officer and Inside the Vault and has been interviewed by Newsweek, Computer World, USA Today, and other national publications.

Registration Options

  • $245 – Live Webinar Access
  • $245 – OnDemand Access + Digital Download
  • $350 – Both Live & On-Demand Access + Digital Download