Commerce officials update bankers on elder fraud initiative

The Minnesota Department of Commerce continues its fight against financial scams targeting the elderly with an initiative it calls Hang Up on Fraud! The initiative encourages people who are targeted by fraudsters via telephone—still the weapon of choice—to end the call, phone a friend for advice or support, and lastly, report the incident to the department’s Consumer Services Center.

Commerce officials provided bankers with an update on the initiative at Minnesota Bankers Day, held Sept. 27 in Lakeville. Since Hang Up on Fraud! launched in November 2017, Jennifer Fox, outreach coordinator, said the Department purchased ads on social media, television and radio, and delivered fraud prevention toolkits at events such as Banker Day and via the postal service, with roughly 31,000 toolkits distributed. It also produced a short film to illustrate its message.  

While bankers are uniquely positioned as a line of defense when vulnerable adults fall prey to financial scammers, that line isn’t impenetrable, said Commerce Commissioner Jessica Looman. Ultimately, bankers cannot prevent a customer from accessing their own money, she said. What they can do is raise awareness among staff and customers on the scope of the problem, which is increasing.

Currently, one out of every five persons older than age 65 falls victim to financial fraud. Worse, a study released in September by an Arkansas firm, First Orion, said half of all cell phone calls will be scams as early as 2019.

“We put a focus on vulnerable adults,” Looman said. “Some of the most powerful presentations we give are when we partner with law enforcement and they tell seniors, ‘we will never call you to tell you there’s a warrant out for a family member’s arrest unless you pay us.’” Such calls are currently amongst the scams reported by victims.

Bankers are encouraged to let customers know how to protect themselves by encouraging them to avoid giving out personal information to strangers in response to texts, emails or calls, regardless of who the caller claims to represent. Bankers were also asked to be alert to customer behaviors that indicate an incident of financial exploitation is underway, such as unexpected withdrawals.

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