Thursday, May 14, 2015

Elder Financial Abuse - Warning Signs

The growing elderly population has given rise to a growing problem - elder financial abuse. The True Link Report on Elder Financial Abuse 2015 noted that senior citizens lose roughly $36.48 billion each year to financial abuse. It is also estimated that just under 40% of seniors are affected by financial abuse in any five-year period.

Denise Hutchings, a Financial Crimes Research Specialist with Verafin, recently provided a list of red flag indicators for financial institutions to consider in connection with possible fraud on elderly accounts. Below is a summary of those red flags indicators.

Three red flag areas of concern deal with (1) Changes in spending and transaction patterns, (2) Changes to accounts and/or documentation, and (3) Changes in Appearance or Demeanor.

1. Changes in Spending and Transaction Patterns

A set of "out-of-sync" check numbers.

A sudden flurry of "bounced" checks and overdraft fees.

Transactions showing multiple small dollar checks posting to the elderly account in the same month. Possible indication of telemarketing or charity scams.

Large withdrawals from a previously inactive account, credit account, or a new joint account.

Increased account use after the addition of a new authorized signer on the account.

Abrupt increases in credit or debit card activity.

Sudden appearance of ATM/Debit Card transactions with no prior history of these before on the account.

Withdrawals or purchases using ATM/Debit Cards that are repetitive over a short period of time. Different patterns of time and location usage of cards as well.

Vulnerable adult appears confused about the account balance or transactions on the account.

A caregiver appears to be getting paid too much or too often.

Significant increases in monthly expenses paid which may indicate that expenses for persons other than the senior are being paid.

Increased cash withdrawal activity, especially when being escorted by another (caregiver, family member, "friend") who appears to be directing the changing account activity.

2. Changes to Accounts and/or Documentation

Recent changes or additions of authorized signers on an elderly account.

Statements are being sent to an address other than the vulnerable adult's home.

Vulnerable adult has no knowledge of newly issued ATM. debit or credit cards.

Sudden appearance of previously uninvolved relatives claiming their rights to a vulnerable adult's affairs and possessions.

Sudden unexplained transfers of assets, particularly real property.

Refinance of vulnerable adult's property, especially when significant cash out from the new loan is taking place.

3. Changes in Appearance or Demeanor

Vulnerable adult has a companion who seems to be "calling the shots".

Change in the vulnerable adult's physical or mental appearance. Signs that could indicate self neglect or early dementia leave the the vulnerable adult open for financial abuse.

Vulnerable adult acknowledges providing personal and private account information to a solicitor via the phone or email.

Excitement about being the "winner" in a sweepstakes, lottery, or email contest.

Comments to the financial institution that indicate confusion on time frames and people in their lives.


Elder financial abuse is becoming an epidemic and represents such a tragedy to the elderly population who have saved their entire lives for their retirement years. Financial institutions, caregivers, and family members need to be alert to these warning signs that may indicate financial abuse. Sadly, family members are often the source of the financial abuse as they use a vulnerable adult's confusion as cover to steal their assets. The best advice is to closely monitor transactions and follow the paper trail on where funds go.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Secret Shopper Scam Example

Today was my lucky day! Out of all the eligible email accounts in the world, I was selected as the recipient for this amazing Secret Shopper job offer. Below is the exact email that was sent;

I am Michael Reyes, Recruitment Specialist with Platanium Corporation.“We have a mystery shopping assignment in your area and we would like you to participate". Secret Shopper® has been in business since 1990. We are a charter member of the Mystery Shopping Provider's Association (MSPA), the professional trade association for the Mystery Shopping industry. There is no charge to apply to be a Secret Shopper® and information is protected. Secret Shopper® is accepting applications for qualified individuals to become mystery shoppers. Its fun and rewarding, and you choose when and where you want to shop. You are never obligated to accept an assignment. There is no charge to become a shopper and you do not need previous experience. After you sign up, you will have access to training materials via e-mail, fax or postal mail.

Secret Shopper® is the premier mystery shopping company serving clients across America and Canada with over 500,000 shoppers available and ready to help businesses better serve their customers. Continual investment in the latest internet and communication technologies coupled with over 16 years of know-how means working with Secret Shopper® is a satisfying and rewarding experience. Secret shopping as seen on ABC NEWS, NBC NEWS, L.A.TIMES.Since 1990, Secret Shopper® has delivered actionable intelligence to our clients, helping to drive exceptional bottom-line performance. Nearly 1,000 shoppers have registered this week, performing millions of mystery shops throughout North America and the Caribbean. When coupled with our continual investment in the latest internet and communication technologies, you can rest assured that working with Secret Shopper® is a satisfying and rewarding experience.Secret Shopper® is also a charter member of the industry trade association, the Mystery Shopping Providers Association (MSPA). Benefit from partnering with America’s premier mystery shopping company. We have been building our tradition of excellence for two decades.

Stores and organizations such as The Gap, Walmart, Pizza Hut and Banks. One amongst many others pay for Secret Shoppers to shop in their establishments and report their experiences. On top of being paid for shopping you are also allowed to keep purchases for free. Secret Shopper® NEVER charge fees to the shopper. Training, tips for improvement, and shopping opportunities are provided free to registered shoppers.Mystery shoppers are either paid a pre-arranged fee for a particular shop, a reimbursement for a purchase or a combination of both. Secret Shopper® has available for immediate assignment an inspection of the customer service of any walmart in your area. You are to shop secretly. This fee will be paid upfront. During this shopping, you will visit a location and make several observations as regards the customer service. You will be required to interact with the shopper clerk. You may conduct the shop alone or as a couple. The assignment will pay $200.00 per duty and you can be able to get up to 2- 3 duties in a week depending on how fast you are able to execute the first assignment. Kindly Fill Out the application form below and we will get back to you shortly with the assignment:
(The application form asked for name, address, phone numbers, age, and email address).

Let's break down how and why this "job" offer is a scam. (Our email filter by the way identified the email as probable spam). The email address of the sender was coming from an AOL email address that did not match the name of Michael Reyes noted in the first line. Also, why would a Recruitment Specialist for a real corporation use an AOL email address? Notice how the email was not addressed to anyone in particular. If a company was truly contacting someone for a job opportunity they would be addressing that person in their email. A quick Google check also does not reveal that a "Platanium Corporation" exists. If misspelled as "Platinum", not good to have your company name misspelled plus that company does exist with no connection to secret shopper programs.

Real secret shopper programs NEVER send money to strangers to purchase items and report back on their shopping experience. To say that "this fee will be paid upfront" is an obvious red flag of the scam. Real secret shopper programs focus on shoppers who visit their stores and transact business with their own personal money. They would then complete a very detailed secret shopper survey and be paid a nominal fee after the fact. It would NEVER be $200 for evaluating a shopping experience. The $200 carrot is out there by the scammer to attract people in difficult financial situations who see the offer as easy money. Also note that additional secret shopper duties might be available based upon the speed of your first assignment. Secrecy and speed are two components of any good scam.

The part that says "You will be required to interact with the shopper clerk" is the meat of the real scam since this is where they will have the victim to wire funds to a recipient provided by the scammer. The wire is almost always going outside of the country. The scammer will provide a counterfeit check after the applicant information is provided to cover the costs of the shopping items, wire amount (largest transaction of course), and the $200 fee for the mystery shopper. These counterfeit checks usually fall below $3,000 because of various banking hold policies and stiffer criminal penalties for larger fake checks.

These Secret Shopper scams have been around for some time and show no signs of slowing down. NEVER respond to the emails because they then have a valid email address and will continue to send additional fake offers in the hopes of having just one scam that finally works.

Be careful out there and remember that fraudsters are always inventing new ways to separate victims from their money. Feel free to contact me or our office staff if you ever receive a questionable offer that you would like to have reviewed.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Together Magazine - Spring Edition

The Spring edition of the Together magazine is now published and being circulated to members and our sponsor schools in the area. This is the second year of publication for this Together magazine for the credit union which is a big change from prior year newsletters. Many credit unions have stopped newsletters altogether because of mailing costs and limited interest by the members. Newsletters were more about giving event dates and sales promotion information. By contrast, the Together magazine reads like a normal magazine would. Real life events and financial education resources are featured in each edition to help our membership and the community with their financial decisions.

For example, this Spring edition of the Together magazine discusses how to regret-proof your next vehicle purchase. Buying a vehicle is a major purchase item. Unfortunately the credit union often hears from members after the fact of their vehicle buying horror stories. There is nothing worse than having buyer's remorse on a vehicle that has just been financed for five or six years.

The credit union's primary purpose is to help improve the financial condition of its credit union member-owners. Our Together magazine has been created by professional editors and writers to assist with this objective. I encourage our current and potential members to take a few minutes and read the publication. It is our strong belief that financial education value will be earned by doing so.

Here is a direct link to the e-version where you can flip pages like a regular magazine publication;

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Teachers Have Come a Long Way......

Below is an old Teacher Contract from 1923 that is obviously for a female teacher. Makes you wonder what the male teacher contract looked like! Not sure of the geographic region of this contract however the Ohio area was mentioned as a possibility. Fortunately, women have come a long way in the workplace since 1923!

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Closings and Delayed Openings

This winter season has presented multiple weather events that have resulted in the credit union having to close offices, delay openings, or close early. These decisions are not taken lightly. The number one priority for the credit union is the safety of our employees as they must travel to and from our various office locations. Predicting weather in the Tennessee Valley is not an easy task. Weather patterns can change and have done so in the past. Weather predictions are all about probabilities so the best we can do as decision makers is to try and make the right call based upon the information available. We generally do not follow the weather closing schedules of the various school systems. School systems have to worry about children waiting on buses or being transported on buses that must leave very early each morning. Credit union offices do not open until 8:30 am Monday through Friday so we have time to see how conditions are that morning before deciding on a closure or delayed opening. Generally, the goal is to make that decision by 6:00 AM if a decision deals with an office closure or delayed opening. We have to notify all of our employees through our communication channels and then we begin notifying our members by a variety of methods. Closing early during an existing workday is based solely on insuring to the best of our abilities that employees can arrive at their homes safely before poor driving conditions develop. 

There are multiple methods used to report office closings, delayed openings, or early closings. The top line of our web site at will notate any office hour changes when they occur. Our Facebook and Twitter pages will be updated live. Members on our Constant Contact email group will receive an email noting weather closings and delays. This is why it is important for the credit union to have accurate email information for members. Finally, the three main network affiliates (ABC, NBC, and CBS) will be contacted to post our announcement along with other businesses in the area. Keep in mind though we have no control if or when the networks will post our announcements. The newsrooms typically do a great job of posting information for the public but they are also extremely busy during these severe weather events. 

The credit union has disaster recovery resources available to post member debits and credits whenever our offices must be closed due to weather or other natural disaster events. We are also very lenient on refunding overdraft fees and other charges that could have been avoided if our offices had been open. All members are encouraged to have a VISA Debit Card or at least an ATM card to access their funds if credit union offices are closed. 

Members are also encouraged to monitor potential weather storm events and make plans in advance for cash needs should an office closing or delayed opening become necessary. We want our members to remain safe also so usually the best place to be during severe weather events is at home with family and friends close by. 

Friday, February 13, 2015

IRS Impersonation Scams

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is reporting a considerable number of phone scams being targeted towards taxpayers, including recent immigrants. Callers claim to be employees of the IRS but are not. These callers are con artists who will attempt to scare people into providing their personal information and credit/debit card numbers. Be aware that these fake callers are using spoofing technology to fool Caller ID into displaying that the call is originating from the IRS.

Victims are told that they owe money to the IRS and that their tax obligation needs to be paid promptly through a credit/debit card or a wire transfer. The fake IRS callers use fear as the main tool in obtaining what they want. Victims will be threatened with immediate arrest, account liens, seizure of homes and assets, deportations, and suspension of a business or driver's license.

Some fake callers can go the opposite route and claim that you are due a large refund and need your information so that the IRS can "make things right".

The IRS will never; (1) Call to demand immediate payment over the telephone, (2) Call about taxes owed unless they have mailed you a bill, (3) Demand that you pay taxes without giving you the opportunity to question or appeal the amount they say you owe, (4) Require you to use a specific means of payment for your taxes such as a credit or debit card, (5) Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the telephone, or ((6) Threaten to bring in law enforcement to arrest you for non-payment.

These fake IRS impersonation calls are growing in number. The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration reported in an October report that IRS impersonators had made more than 90,000 fake phone calls to consumers and had acquired more than $5,000,000 in stolen funds.

Report scammers to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration by phone at 1-800-366-4484 or forward suspicious e-mails to You can also file a report with the Federal Trade Commission online. Contact your financial institution immediately if you have given personal account information in response to a suspicious caller or email.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Large Cash Transactions: Bank Secrecy Act

Credit union members should be aware of what the Bank Secrecy Act means to consumers and the financial transactions they make in their financial institutions. All financial institutions are required to monitor transactions that take place and report any activity that is deemed suspicious either by definition or by circumstances. Cash transactions in particular are monitored by dollar amount and by frequency. All cash transactions above $10,000 on a daily aggregate basis would be reported. It is important to note though that account holders should not purposely stagger cash deposits over several days to avoid reporting of the $10,000 cash amount threshold. The practice of staggering deposits to avoid reporting is called "structuring" and could result in being reported as a suspicious activity, which is worse than just one large currency transaction. The practice of "structuring" cash deposits to avoid reporting can be prosecuted as a crime. This is especially true if the cash transactions can be connected to money laundering, tax evasion, or criminal activities where cash is being transacted. Most financial institutions have internal systems in place to monitor cash transactions over a period of time to trigger a concern over "structuring". 

There is nothing illegal about making a large currency deposit or withdrawing a large cash sum of money. There should not be any fear by consumers in making cash transactions. The origins of the Bank Secrecy Act was to establish a system that could assist with detecting money laundering and criminal activities. Terrorism concerns with large cash transactions have developed over time. The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) is the federal bureau within the U.S. Treasury Department that has been charged with implementing, administering, and enforcing compliance with the laws associated with The Currency and Foreign Transactions Act of 1970, commonly called the Bank Secrecy Act. 

The Bank Secrecy Act and the laws associated with it are not a secret. They are a matter of public policy that every citizen can review on their own. The government FinCEN web site has information available for the public in understanding the Bank Secrecy Act. The web site is . 

All financial institutions are required to comply with Bank Secrecy Act regulations. Significant fines and penalties could be assessed to financial institutions that do not comply. 

Account holders are advised to be open and honest with their large cash transactions. Do not ask financial institution employees about how to avoid being reported for cash transactions because that is a sure way to get reported. The Bank Secrecy Act law requires it.