The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) is issuing this advisory to assist the financial industry in reporting instances of financial exploitation of the elderly, a form of elder abuse.1 Financial institutions can play a key role in addressing elder financial exploitation due to the nature of the client relationship. Often, financial institutions are quick to suspect elder financial exploitation based on bank personnel familiarity with their elderly customers. The valuable role financial institutions can play in alerting appropriate authorities to suspected elder financial exploitation has received increased attention at the state level; this focus is consistent with an upward trend at the federal level in Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) describing instances of suspected elder financial exploitation.2 Analysis of SARs reporting elder financial exploitation can provide critical information about specific frauds and potential trends, and can highlight abuses perpetrated against the elderly.
This advisory contains examples of "red flags" based on activity identified by various state and federal agencies and provides a common narrative term that will assist law enforcement in better identifying suspected cases of financial exploitation of the elderly reported in SARs.
Older Americans hold a high concentration of wealth as compared to the general population. In the instances where elderly individuals experience declining cognitive or physical abilities, they may find themselves more reliant on specific individuals for their physical well-being, financial management, and social interaction. While anyone can be a victim of a financial crime such as identity theft, embezzlement, and fraudulent schemes, certain elderly individuals may be particularly vulnerable.
Potential Indicators of Elder Financial Exploitation
The following red flags could indicate the existence of elder financial exploitation. This list of red flags identifies only possible signs of illicit activity. Financial institutions should evaluate indicators of potential financial exploitation in combination with other red flags and expected transaction activity being conducted by or on behalf of the elder. Additional investigation and analysis may be necessary to determine if the activity is suspicious.
Financial institutions may become aware of persons or entities perpetrating illicit activity against the elderly through monitoring transaction activity that is not consistent with expected behavior. In addition, financial institutions may become aware of such scams through their direct interactions with elderly customers who are being financially exploited. In many cases, branch personnel familiarity with specific victim customers may lead to identification of anomalous activity that could alert bank personnel to initiate a review of the customer activity.
- Erratic or unusual banking transactions, or changes in banking patterns:
- Frequent large withdrawals, including daily maximum currency withdrawals from an ATM;
- Sudden Non-Sufficient Fund activity;
- Uncharacteristic nonpayment for services, which may indicate a loss of funds or access to funds;
- Debit transactions that are inconsistent for the elder;
- Uncharacteristic attempts to wire large sums of money;
- Closing of CDs or accounts without regard to penalties.
- Interactions with customers or caregivers:
- A caregiver or other individual shows excessive interest in the elder's finances or assets, does not allow the elder to speak for himself, or is reluctant to leave the elder's side during conversations;
- The elder shows an unusual degree of fear or submissiveness toward a caregiver, or expresses a fear of eviction or nursing home placement if money is not given to a caretaker;
- The financial institution is unable to speak directly with the elder, despite repeated attempts to contact him or her;
- A new caretaker, relative, or friend suddenly begins conducting financial transactions on behalf of the elder without proper documentation;
- The customer moves away from existing relationships and toward new associations with other "friends" or strangers;
- The elderly individual's financial management changes suddenly, such as through a change of power of attorney to a different family member or a new individual;
- The elderly customer lacks knowledge about his or her financial status, or shows a sudden reluctance to discuss financial matters.
Suspicious Activity Reporting
SARs continue to be a valuable avenue for financial institutions to report elder financial exploitation. Consistent with the standard for reporting suspicious activity as provided for in 31 CFR Part 103 (future 31 CFR Chapter X), if a financial institution knows, suspects, or has reason to suspect that a transaction has no business or apparent lawful purpose or is not the sort in which the particular customer would normally be expected to engage, and the financial institution knows of no reasonable explanation for the transaction after examining the available facts, including the background and possible purpose of the transaction, the financial institution should then file a Suspicious Activity Report.3
In order to assist law enforcement in its effort to target instances of financial exploitation of the elderly, FinCEN requests that financial institutions select the appropriate characterization of suspicious activity in the Suspicious Activity Information section of the SAR form and include the term "elder financial exploitation" in the narrative portion of all relevant SARs filed. The narrative should also include an explanation of why the institution knows, suspects, or has reason to suspect that the activity is suspicious. It is important to note that the potential victim of elder financial exploitation should not be reported as the subject of the SAR. Rather, all available information on the victim should be included in the narrative portion of the SAR.
Elder abuse, including financial exploitation, is generally reported and investigated at the local level, with Adult Protective Services, District Attorney's offices, sheriff's offices, and police departments taking key roles. We emphasize that filers should continue to report all forms of elder abuse according to institutional policies and the requirements of state and local laws and regulations, where applicable. Financial institutions may wish to consider how their AML programs can complement their policies on reporting elder financial exploitation at the local and state level.
Financial institutions with questions or comments regarding this Advisory should contact FinCEN's Regulatory Helpline at 800-949-2732.