Welcome to the Jungle—Trying to Make Sense of Paying with Plastic

Life used to be so simple. You want something, you offer something in exchange. I’d like a sack of grain, here is a fine chicken. Deal. Then we invented cash, which greatly simplified the process – a uniform standard of value and much easier to fit in your pocket than a chicken. Next came checks; paper IOUs that avoided the need to carry large amounts of cash around – very dangerous! All the above have been around in one form or another for centuries, at least. But in last few decades, the number of payment methods has ballooned and it’s getting darned confusing.

We’re here to help!  Pro Tip – you can skip to the end of this blog if you just want to know what to do.  But if you’re interested in what’s happening in the background, read on.

Pretty much everyone understands credit cards.  Back in the 1920s, merchants began allowing customers to charge purchases with a promise to pay for the goods later – basically running a tab. Then in 1958 came “The Fresno Drop” – a national bank mailed thousands of unsolicited credit cards with a preapproved credit line to residents of Fresno CA to see what would happen.  What happened is that the bank lost a bunch of money as people used the cards and didn’t bother to pay. The bank wised up in a hurry and started offering credit cards only to folks with good credit.  And thus was born the credit card and credit score industries, first with Visa, then MasterCard, Discover, American Express and numerous other smaller issuers.

Now we have debit cards, which are like credit cards except that the funds for a purchase are withdrawn immediately from your account, instead of accumulating as a debt to be paid monthly or over time (with interest!). Debit cards have become the primary form of payment in the United States, and are popular because they’re like cash, and keep folks from spending money they don’t have. We could go on to prepaid cards, stored value cards, PayPal, Venmo, Apple Pay and other mobile payment tools, but let’s save those for another day.  This is going to get weird enough as it is.

So, you go and buy something and you pull out your debit or credit card to pay. Do you swipe? Do you dip (if it’s a “Chip” or EMV-enabled card)? Do you sign? Do you enter a PIN? Do you do neither? Who decides all this?  What does it matter?
It turns out it matters a great deal. It used to be that the card issuers (MasterCard, Visa, Discover, etc.) decided how payments would be processed, and they chose ways that earned them the most money. The in 2008 came “The Great Recession” and in response the Dodd Frank legislation that tried to address some of the excesses in the banking and payments industries, and the so-called Durbin Amendment that specifically addressed how and who controls the way electronic payments are processed. As a result, now it is the merchants and their card processors (the companies that program their payment terminals and hand off the transactions to the card issuers) who have all the power.
So far so good? Now it starts to get weirder. You have a debit card, you swipe it, and the terminal asks you if you want “debit” or “credit.” “Well, duh”, you think, “it’s a debit card,” so you push debit and off you go. But what would happen if you pushed “credit,” you wonder? Well if you did, lo and behold, everything would work fine. Except, maybe, instead of being prompted to enter your PIN, you might be asked to sign. Or maybe not. But wait, you think, this isn’t a credit card, I don’t have a credit account, I want the funds to come right out of my account like usual.  Well, it would.  Because it’s a debit card, even if you pick credit. Likewise, if you use a credit card and pick “debit”, it’s still a credit card and the purchase will show up on your credit card statement for you to pay (now or over time). Confusing, right?

What’s going on here? What’s happening is that if you have the option to pick “debit” or “credit”, you’re not telling the terminal whether you have a debit card or a credit card – it already knows that. What you’re telling the terminal is how you want the transaction routed, from the terminal, to the card issuer, to your bank or credit card company, to your account.   Do you care?  Not really!  Who cares? The merchants! Because different routings cost them different fees and may affect how quickly they get the cash from your card issuer and, ultimately, you. But maybe you DO care, because some merchants and processors may not be programmed to accept certain combinations of cards and transaction types. So you might use a debit card that gets declined as a debit transaction, but processes just fine as a credit transaction.  Why?  Because the merchant wants it that way.

We shouldn’t be picking on the merchants, because they’re just as confused as we are. Most cashiers don’t have a clue about all this stuff, and many small shop owners don’t either. They just bought the package that their processor offered them. And now they’re being forced to upgrade their terminals to be chip-enabled, at great expense to themselves, by the credit card companies who are trying to reduce the cost of fraud. Larger national merchants are much more savvy about how this all works, and may literally be negotiating and renegotiating their rates and payment preferences with their processors and the card companies weekly, to minimize their costs. So, at a big box store, you’re likely not to be given any choice at all – you swipe (or dip) your card and you do what the machine tells you. Well actually you almost always have a choice, but the terminal may not make it easy for you to override the default option.

Wow.  Uncle.  I give up.  I don’t care.  Just tell me what I need to know.

OK, here you go—Pro Tips!

1. Your debit card is a debit card, no matter how a purchase gets routed.  The only time it matters is if you want cash back, then it must be processed as a debit transaction. You might be able to get cash back on your credit card, but it’s going to cost you fees and interest. Only for emergencies!  Either way, the merchant controls whether you can get cash back, and how much.

2. There are times when you might want to select “credit” even if you’re using a debit card. When you select “debit” a hold may be placed on funds in your account. Actually, this happens all the time, but usually the hold is for the amount of the transaction, until it “hard posts” to your account (and the hold drops off).  One time this often matters is at gas stations, where they’ll put as much a $100 hold on your account, even though you might only be pumping $10 of gas.  If you don’t have $100 in your account, no gas for you. Why? Because they know that between the time you pump your gas and the transaction hard posts (could be a couple of days) you might spend the balance in your account and the gas transaction will bounce.  Why is this
usually only at gas stations?  I don’t know.  But select “credit” at gas stations and avoid the hold!

3. If you use your card and the transaction is declined, it could be for a variety of reasons. It could be blocked because antifraud software has identified something about this transaction that is suspicious. If you’ve signed up for alerts from our fraud detection software, you should get an email, text or phone call alerting you and asking you to allow (or not!!!) the purchase.  It could be because the purchase will overdraft your account. You can sign up for our Courtesy Coverage program which will temporarily allow the overdraft and complete your purchase. Occasionally it could be because the merchant isn’t accepting the combination of your card type and transaction type. Try running the card as a different transaction (credit instead of debit, for example).

4. Be prepared and have a backup payment plan. Not all merchants accept all cards, and some merchants don’t accept cards at all—cash only, please. Do consider having a backup card, or carry a blank check, or keep a little cash in your pocket as a backup.  Except I know of a merchant who doesn’t accept cash – plastic only!!!!  So be resilient and have Plan B, just in case.

5. We don’t recommend carrying a chicken around for trade. Too messy. Paying with plastic is here to stay, and with a little knowledge and planning, you can avoid the occasional problem.



Data Breach at Wendy’s-An Update

Last Wednesday evening, our fraud monitoring system detected a significant uptick in fraudulent debit card transactions hitting some of our customers’ accounts.  We very quickly moved to block transactions at certain merchant types in Texas, which was where we saw the fraud occurring.  This quick action stopped many additional fraud attempts.  We were then very quickly able to identify that all of the cards affected had been used at certain Wendy’s locations.   Wendy’s has publicly addressed their data breach  here.    We have called and reissued new debit cards to a first wave of customers whose card data was potentially compromised, and have ordered new cards for a wider range of customers whose card data may also have been stolen, which should be arriving next week by mail.   If you receive a new debit card from us, please be sure to activate it promptly.

It has not yet been confirmed that this data breach has been fully contained.   According to Wendy’s, no Vermont locations were compromised.  However, we urge you to remain vigilant, review your accounts regularly for unauthorized or suspicious transactions, and to call 1.866.546.8273 or the Bank directly if you have concerns.  In addition, it is important that you respond quickly to texts, calls and emails you receive from our Fraud Department to confirm or deny possible fraudulent transactions that our system identifies.

Our mobile app is a great way to have your balance and transaction history right at hand at any time; you can download it from the Apple Store or Google Play.   And please make sure we have your most up-to-date contact information on file so we can reach you quickly when events like this happen.

Recent newpaper articles over the last several days have possibly been confusing.  There was no breach at Brattleboro Savings & Loan, nor was the impact of the Wendy’s breach limited to BS&L customers.   Anyone using a debit or credit card from any bank, credit union or other card issuer at a compromised Wendy’s location was, and may still be, at risk, and should remain vigilant.  Wendy’s is offering free fraud counseling and identity restoration services to potentially impacted cardholders.

We are extremely serious about our responsibility for the safety of your money, and we feel it is important that we act aggressively and swiftly when we detect fraud.  Other banks may simply send you a new card with no explanation, or eat the fraud expense as a “cost of doing business.”  We don’t think that’s enough.  We want to be transparent and informative, and to help you understand how the payments system works, and how you can protect yourself in an increasingly dangerous world.   That’s our job.   Thanks for being part of the BS&L family!





Ugh ! Where is my debit card!?

It happens. You are trucking along, living your life, and suddenly you realize your debit card is nowhere to be found! Great. Now you can only assume that you have to order a new one, wait 5 business days to get it in the mail, wait a few more days to receive the pin, which you then have to figure out how to change, and meanwhile you have to get to the bank, take out an unknown amount of cash (because who writes checks, or takes checks anymore) and hope you can get by without too many trips to the teller line!  Sounds awesome.

Thankfully, at BS&L, we Instant Issue debit cards (That means we make them on the spot)  at our Main Office branch in downtown Brattleboro.  You can report your card as either lost or stolen through your online banking, and then come in and get a new card. You set your own pin, and leave with your card in hand and ready to use.  Easy, and much more secure!

Banking is evolving, and we are always on the lookout for ways to make working with us easier for you. We know you have a life, and we want to be part of it, not disrupt it.

*After you come in and get your new card, remember to go into any online accounts (Netflix, Amazon…etc.) and update your card information to avoid any interruptions in service.

Keep calm, and bank on!

Why, in this day of computers and instant transactions, do deposits from out of state take days to clear?

That’s a great question! Generally, your deposit is fully available on the next business day, with $200 available upon deposit. But in certain cases,  there may be a delay in availability which may not have to do as much with the fact that the check is from out of state, but rather more on whether this is normal activity for your relationship with us. Generally we look at the amount of the check that you’re depositing and how it relates to a number of things, including how long your account has been open and what your total relationship with us looks like in terms of offsetting balances. Unfortunately, we see a lot of fraudulent checks these days, as check scams are at their highest levels, so if the check that you’re depositing is not normal activity or may be suspect, we may choose to delay the availability for your protection. 

Here’s what the process looks like on our end: once you deposit the check, it gets processed through the Federal Reserve, they sent to the bank it is drawn on, and we get credited the next day from the Reserve.  In a sense we “front” any money that you use during this process.  If in the days following (yes it still takes a day or two or sometimes three between the Federal Reserve and the banks involved ) the checks turns out to be bad, then we have a problem.  The check gets returned to us through the Federal Reserve, and our credit for that check from them is revoked.  Now, we have to remove the bad deposit from your account, whether it has already been spent or not. That is why is some cases, it is better to wait for the check to clear, than to make the money available for spending immediately, and then end up with the check rejecting.

 If you ever have question about our placing an extended hold on a check, please ask! We would rather include you in the decision making process, and our primary goal is to protect you. 


Beware of Unexpected Prize or Lottery Notifications

Your letter reads: “We are pleased to bring this official notice which confirms that you are a 2nd prize winner in the second category of the USA Mega (under the international Sweepstake) drawing held on January 6th 2016. The serial number 794910 attached to your name matched the first five lucky winning numbers 38-29-45-58-22, you have won $250,000.00 (Two hundred and fifty thousand dollars).

Congratulations! You have just been selected to be the victim of an extremely widespread fraud.   Each day millions of individuals are notified by mail, telephone, email, text message or social media that they have won a fantastic price. The price you have “won” could be anything from a tropical holiday to laptops or a smartphone, or even money.

There are clear warning signs to watch for: You may be asked to provide personal details to prove that you are the correct winner, and even asked for your bank account into which they will be depositing the initial payment. To claim your prize you may be asked to buy a ticket, pay a fee or call a premium rate phone number. If you’re extra lucky, you will be provided with a (fraudulent) Certified Check with which you can pay the “Processing Fee” to collect your winnings. Simply contact your assigned “Agent” who will instruct you to deposit the (fraudulent) check into your bank account, withdraw a portion of the proceeds to pay “Processing Fee” and send it, via Western Union, following the instructions provided to you by your “Agent”.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, consumers are responding to these solicitations to the tune of $120 million a year. The FTC recommends that you ignore all mail and phone solicitations for lottery promotions. If you receive what looks like lottery material, give it to your bank or your local postmaster.

Report Scams: If you believe that you’ve responded to a scam, file a complaint with:

  • The Federal Trade Commission www.ftc.gov
  • Our State Attorney General, William H. Sorrell at 802-828-3173, or
  • Your local Police Department.

Remember, if it seems too good to be true, it is.

We Are Here to Help Through Mortgage Challenges

June is American Housing Month, when we celebrate the variety of housing choices that Americans make. Whether owning or renting, the basic principle is that you should be free to choose the home that works best for you and your family.

Unfortunately, that choice is increasingly made not by you but by distant bureaucrats in Washington, D.C. Arbitrary government rules have created artificial barriers to buying a home—and these barriers are hitting some groups—such as retirees, first-time buyers, and entrepreneurs—disproportionately hard.

There was once a clear path to homeownership. You saved a certain amount to put down and made sure that you could afford the monthly payment. If a banker knew you and knew that you were a reliable person, you might be able to get a mortgage even if you didn’t have years’ worth of tax returns and pay stubs.

But bankers are no longer allowed to base decisions on their knowledge of your integrity. Instead, we must base decisions on a ream of data, thoroughly documenting a customer’s ability to repay the loan. That means a homebuyer must have regular income, documented by at least two years of tax returns, pay stubs, account statements and credit history.

These rules are burdensome—often insurmountable—for many homebuyers:

  • Retirees may have ample assets, but if they’re not working they may not be able to prove income. If they cannot prove a flow of income, they may be left out of the housing market.
  • First-time buyers are less likely to have adequate savings for a down payment, which often means lenders must charge more for the loan through insurance or points and fees. But making a higher-cost loan now results in legal complications, which makes banks reluctant to originate these kinds of mortgages.
  • It’s especially troubling that these rules hurt self-employed entrepreneurs—the embodiment of the American dream—because their income may be variable, seasonal, or hard to document.

While homeownership isn’t for everyone, some evidence suggests that the new rules are suppressing the homeownership rate artificially. For example, the homeownership rate has fallen to its lowest level in nearly 20 years.

Bankers welcome lending standards that provide strong protections for all consumers.  But these standards must be sensible and flexible. Americans should have more flexible options to document their ability to repay, and we should be allowed to use our good judgment to serve all creditworthy homebuyers.

Bankers will continue to work with creditworthy homebuyers—we’re here to help you through the challenges. All Americans should be able to choose the housing that works best for them.

From “LEAP” to “TRID” – A time to pause…..

If you are in the market to buy a new home after August 1, 2015, or if you are one of the other stakeholders involved in the home buying process: seller, realtor, lender, appraiser, attorney, or title company –brace yourself – because the process, and several key documents the industry has used for over three decades to finance and settle a purchase are changing.

As a result of the financial crisis of 2008 and the passage of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, a special agency was created to oversee consumer safety with respect to financial transactions. That agency is the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau (CFPB).

OK, so what exactly are “LEAP” and “TRID”? These are acronyms for the new process and the new disclosures. “LEAP” stands for “Loan Estimate Application Procedure” and “TRID” means “TILA-RESPA Integrated Mortgage Disclosures”. These apply to closed-ended consumer credit transactions secured by real property. Excluded are reverse mortgages, home equity credit lines, chattel secured/mobile home only loans, and lenders who originate less than 5 loans a year.

During a two year study, the CFPB found that one of the issues contributing to the crisis was that home buyers applying for a mortgage were often confused by the documents presented to them. At the beginning of the loan application process there is the “GFE” (Good Faith Estimate) and the “TIL” (Truth–In-Lending) disclosure, and at closing, the “Final TIL” and “HUD1 Settlement Statement”.

Industry studies showed a correlation between borrower confusion and the adoption of higher risk mortgage loans in the years leading up to the crisis. These four disclosures are going away and being replaced by the “Loan Estimate” and the “Closing Disclosure”. You can see these new forms and read about the study online at: http://www.consumerfinance.gov/knowbeforeyouowe.

The new forms are designed to be easier to read and highlight key information. This makes them easier to understand and to comparison shop. The “Loan Estimate” like its predecessor the “GFE and TIL,” has to be provided to the borrower within 3 days of receipt of an application. The borrower has to acknowledge his/her intent to proceed with this particular lender before the lender can continue further.

The “Closing Disclosure” now has a 3 business day mandatory “review period” which starts upon receipt of the form by the borrower. This is designed to give the borrower more time to review the closing figures in an “unpressured environment”, before signing loan documents and to eliminate surprises at closing. However, depending upon the method of delivery (by hand, US mail, email or fax) that could potentially add an additional 3-10 calendar days (“delivery time period”) to the process, as we wait for the borrower to acknowledge receipt of the disclosure before closing. If there is a change in circumstance, such as an increase in the APR greater than 1/8%, or a change in the loan program, or the addition of a pre-payment penalty, a new disclosure must be issued with a new waiting period.

It is reported that Wells Fargo has announced that they will complete and deliver the Closing Disclosure via US mail. That means the completed disclosure (with buyer and seller figures) has to be mailed about 10 days prior to closing to meet the 3 day rule. Of course this means their closings need to be scheduled far in advance.

The new “rule” also adopts a ‘zero tolerance’ for increases in third party fees for services that the buyer is not allowed to choose such as the appraisal of the property.  Lenders are prohibited from passing those increases on to the borrower. That is why it is so important to provide as much information to the lender about the property up front. (Ie., is it a single family home or does it have an accessory unit that makes it really a two-unit? Appraisal fees for multi-unit properties are higher than for single units.)

So why is it such a big deal to change a few forms? (1) This is a really huge project for the providers of loan origination software (LOS) and closing documents because they have to re-write and program the software that produces the loan and closing forms. (2) Attorneys and title agents who don’t currently have this settlement software will need to purchase it and learn how to use it. (3) The new process involves significant coordination between lenders, title companies and attorneys who provide escrow and settlement services as there may be a shifting or sharing of duties regarding disclosure of title insurance and a different formula for calculating simultaneous policy issues. (4) Once programs are released, there is training of staff, testing the software, changing operational procedures, and notifying our real estate partners of those changes in order to be ready for August 1st.

And how does all this affect sellers and buyers of real estate? Expect longer settlement times as buyers opt to avail themselves of their right to a longer discovery period. Tax and fuel pro-rations will likely have to be agreed upon using a date other than “as of the day of closing” since those numbers have to be provided to settlement agents at least a week earlier. Sellers should continue to provide complete, current, and accurate information on their properties to listing realtors so that inspectors and appraisers can file their reports expeditiously. Attorneys may even need to consider starting the title search earlier on in the purchase process, regardless of a final “clear to close” from the lender, as many title companies currently do, to shorten the time on the end.

As with all types of change, learning to manage it can be difficult. Accepting it is the first step. Dodd Frank legislation is aimed at encouraging consumers to take charge of the process, educate themselves and “Know Before they Owe”*, but besides that, what the CFPB is asking us all to do is to take pause…, to slow things down and make the time to consider wisely, what will likely be the biggest financial transaction in our lives.

Useful CFPB links:

*1. “Know Before You Owe”   http://www.consumerfinance.gov/knowbeforeyouowe/

  2. “Your home loan toolkit/A step-by-step guide”


 3. “What the new simplified mortgage disclosures mean for consumers”


4. “Mortgage Closings today” A preliminary look at the role of technology in improving the closing process for consumers http://files.consumerfinance.gov/f/201404_cfpb_report_mortgage-closings-today.pdf

Helen Wachtel, Assistant Vice President & Senior Mortgage Officer

Brattleboro Savings & Loan is an Equal Housing Lender

What does banking locally or community banking mean?

Banking locally or  community banking. What does that mean anyway? Well, in a nutshell, it means banking in your community or in your town. But so what. What does THAT even mean, outside of a great marketing message, or a catchy tagline?  It means nothing. In word format, it is merely a way to remind you that we exist. To truly understand what we as the people of BSL might mean if we say community banking, you have to first understand who we are…

We are your neighbors. Now, I don’t mean that to sound trite, I mean we are actually your neighbors. You are the reason we decide against wearing sweatpants or PJ’s in the grocery store, or in town in general–Just in case.. you are the reason we let that extra car turn left during rush hour; it might be you after all… We know you by name, we know what is “normal” for your spending habits. Not in a creepy way, but in a “hey that withdrawal seemed odd I am going to give them a call” way. We watch your babies grow from the newborn that made you blush when they screamed at our desk,( when you had to nurse them or frantically bounce them and felt self conscious, but did it anyway ( and we are glad you did 🙂 ) up to the child who needs their school trip overseas permission slip notarized. (Can you believe that?!).  You sat with us while you decide to go out on a limb and give your daughter that loan, or take a leap and buy that house, or finally follow your dream and open that business.  We would fiercely defend you and your finances if we had to, and would give you tissues and chocolate while you talked about it.

Aside from care and support, when you are ready to make those big life choices, we are not simply “there for you” we also, know what we are doing!  There is quite a bit of experience in  our personal , commercial, and residential mortgage departments, and we will always do what we can to set you up in a way that works best for you, and will do it from our own local office, while sitting with you, and hearing what you need to be successful.

Mutually owned banks are an endangered species.  It is easy to merge with other banks, or I guess even to close, but I believe–we believe–that without Brattleboro Savings & Loan, banking life in Brattleboro and our beautiful surrounding towns might be a bit less grounded. A bit less awesome, and have a bit less of what you deserve, Excellence, professionalism, love, an appreciation for the quirkiness that makes us Brattleborians, or Southern Vermonters/Southern New Hampshirites/Northern Massachusians in general.

Brandie Starr

A New Threat to our Society – Elder Financial Abuse

By Theresa Masiello, Vice President at Brattleboro Savings & Loan

For many of us, watching our parents age can be a beautiful experience, particularly if we talk less and listen more. The stories that are told can weave images of different times, and can continue to teach us who our parents are and were. Our conversations with them can be more meaningful, yet also more challenging, particularly when it comes to the topics of death and dying, health and finances.

As a thirty-five year banking veteran, I have frequently observed the slow steady decline of my wonderful customers’ capacity to manage their finances, particularly in light of a new threat, that of fraud targeted towards the elderly. For families, this is a critical new conversation to start having early on, as elder financial exploitation crosses all social, educational and economic boundaries.

Why are older adults more at risk and susceptible to “taking the bait” of the fraudster? Because they’re more trusting and polite. They may feel lonely or isolated. They may be vulnerable due to grief from the loss of a spouse, family member or pet. Many may struggle with some form of cognitive impairment. They are more likely to receive care from a person with some sort of substance abuse, gambling or financial problem, or mental health issue. Or sadly, they may be dependent on a family member who may pressure them for money or control of their finances.

I have seen all of these and will share a few stories from 2014. Betty lost her husband last year. She was a successful professional, considers herself computer savvy and takes great pride in emailing her grandkids. Betty is also meeting people online and has met a wonderful man, a teacher, who is currently working in Prague. They have many wonderful email conversations which fills a void in Betty’s life. Gradually, over time, her “friend” confides in Betty that he’s had an accident and needs help, would Betty help him? Here’s what Betty is told to do; wire $500 to him in Prague, he’ll provide Betty with step by step directions. Before too long, the request frequency and amounts increase. But, there’s love, and he’ll be coming back to the States soon and hopes to marry Betty. Over the course of the next few months, Betty has taken several thousands of dollars out of her retirement account and wired the money to her friend. Her family is unaware that any of this is going on.

Then there’s Bill, who’s been contacted by the Canadian lottery. Bill has just won $1 million dollars and all he needs to do is send the processing fees, via MoneyGram or Western Union (which are neither tracked nor regulated), to the lottery processing center, here are the instructions. Fourteen thousand dollars and many lottery letters later, Bill is still convinced that the “Brinks” truck will be pulling up to his door any day now. How did we find this out? From a teller who happened to mention “Gee, Bill’s been coming in a lot making cash withdrawals”. Again, Bill’s family is unaware, they all live out of State.

Margie and Pete are a wonderful couple who have been married for sixty years. They just received a call from a title company in Florida, who has a buyer for their condo there (title records are public information). They can “close the deal” if Margie and Pete send them a check for the title work, just $1,895.00. Unfortunately, Margie and Pete’s phone number, name, address, signature, bank, account number and routing number are now being shared and they’re the target of all kinds of fraudulent scams. Their account is now being used to make payments to credit cards, all over the country. After almost daily visits from Margie and Pete telling me about one offer after another, doing my best to talk them out of acting, and recommending that they change the telephone number that they’ve had for fifty years, I finally called their son, who luckily was a joint owner on the account (otherwise privacy rules prevent banks from reaching out to family).

In all of these cases, the victims truly believed what they were doing was real. And frequently, once they understand that they have been the victim of fraud, they request that it be kept confidential. They are ashamed and embarrassed, may fear retaliation, are in denial, blame themselves for being so gullible, and may even be loyal to the perpetrator (very common in cases where a “relationship” has been formed).

These are representative of the extreme cases of exploitation that we see almost weekly. However, abuse by a caregiver is an equally significant and common abuse.

So, what can you do? Communicating as a family about these types of financial risks is immensely important, talk about how fraud happens and the importance of knowing who they do business with. Ask questions if you fear that a parent may be lonely, check on the relationship your parent has with his or her caregiver and ask about whether your parent gives money to the caregiver to run errands. Watch for frequent cash withdrawals on bank accounts. Add a family member to bank accounts so that account activity can be monitored. Find out if your parent’s accounts come with ID theft and fraud protection services. Ensure that all computers are armed with virus protection. And finally, talk less, and listen more…for clues that your parent may be the victim of elderly abuse.