McKenna unveils training materials to empower bank employees to protect vulnerable adults
BELLEVUE – It was a story that brought new attention to a growing problem: helpless seniors preyed upon by caregivers, friends, and relatives.
In 2008, two women tried to bilk a 78-year-old man with dementia out of his savings. They took him from his Issaquah nursing home to a courthouse wedding. The senior’s new “bride,” a massage therapist from his assisted living facility, and her associate then took him to a Bank of America branch in Bellevue to cash out his bank account. Bank employees stepped in, reported the activity, and the women were arrested.
The events that unfolded in Bellevue are part of a growing trend. Last year, the Washington Department of Social and Health Services received 4,565 reports related to the financial exploitation of seniors and disabled adults.
Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna today recognized the bank employees who proactively protected the senior’s bank account, presenting them with “AGO Community Heroes” plaques, at the bank where the incident took place. He also formally announced new training materials to encourage more tellers to be on the lookout for their vulnerable customers.
“These banking professionals understand that exemplary customer service can be as simple as speaking up for a client who can no longer speak for himself,” McKenna said. “The training materials we’ve produced encourage employees at banks and credit unions to be on the lookout, and speak up for vulnerable customers, just like Elizabeth Reamy, Laura Olson and Darshana Maru did.”
Legislation written by McKenna’s office, passed last year, directs the Attorney General’s Office to produce training materials for banks and credit unions. As part of the new law, financial institutions are required to provide training to front-line workers about their vulnerable adult customers.
“At Bank of America, the safety and security of our customers and their financial assets are our top priorities,” said Bob Landers, Area Executive for Consumer and Small Business Banking for Bank of America. “We are extremely proud of our employees who acted so quickly to take action on behalf of our customer. We also applaud the release of these new guidelines from the Attorney General’s Office, which provide additional guidance to our industry on recognizing and reporting fraud and abuse against our most vulnerable customers.”
McKenna added that banks and credit unions told his office that they wanted to take a more active role in protecting vulnerable customers but were worried about being sued for temporarily freezing customers’ accounts in the process. The 2010 law protects banks from being sued when they’re making a good-faith effort to protect a vulnerable customer.
The legislation gives tellers the tools to identify and prevent the financial exploitation of vulnerable adults.
“Often by the time police and prosecutors are involved, damage has already been inflicted,” King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg said. “Bank employees are in the best position to spot these crimes before they occur.”
Satterberg’s office has made the protection of vulnerable adults a priority, creating a unit trained to address cases involving seniors or disabled adults and hosting annual conferences to help other local law enforcement agencies learn to investigate and prosecute such cases. Satterberg strongly advocated the 2010 legislation, playing a key role in persuading lawmakers to pass the bill.
Janelle Guthrie, Director of Communications, (360) 586-0725