Legal & Financial Planning

5 Questions People Over 55 Should Ask Their Bank

Cameron Huddleston
Cameron Huddleston
January 23, 2023
5 Questions People Over 55 Should Ask Their Bank

If you are an older adult, you should be asking, “What has my bank done for me lately?” More specifically, you need to know what your financial institution is doing to protect you and your assets. 

Americans born before 1965 hold 65% of bank deposits in the U.S., according to the American Bankers Association 2021 Older Americans Benchmarking Report. Because older adults tend to have more money stashed away in bank accounts, they and their accounts often are targeted by criminals who see them as a large source of cash. In fact, adults 60 and older reported losing more than $1 billion to fraud in 2021 alone, according to the most-recent figures from the Federal Trade Commission. 

Because you are a valued customer and at a heightened risk of becoming a victim of fraud and financial exploitation, you should be able to count on your bank or credit union to do everything it can to help keep your money safe. That’s why you need to ask these five questions to make sure your bank’s services cater to the needs of older adults.

How do you specifically protect older customers and their assets? 

This is a broad question, so you should press your financial institution to provide you with details about what it is doing to protect older customers. 

For example, a bank representative should be able to tell you whether bank staff have been trained to detect signs of elder financial exploitation. In 2016, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau published an advisory for financial institutions that  recommended that they provide this sort of training to their employees, and 86% of banks surveyed by the American Bankers Association said they do. Consider it a red flag if your bank hasn’t taken this key step to protect you and older customers like you from elder fraud and exploitation.

You’ll also want to know whether it’s the bank’s policy to report suspected financial exploitation of older adults to the appropriate authorities or take other steps to stop exploitation if it’s detected.

Financial institutions that train their employees to detect and report fraud are more effective in protecting older customers from losing money to exploitation. A study by AARP and the Virgina Tech Center for Gerontology found that bank tellers who underwent AARP’s BankSafe training reported five times as many suspicious incidents and saved older customers 16 times as much money over a six-month period as untrained tellers did.

Do you use technology to monitor for fraud and signs of exploitation?

Your bank or credit union likely offers the option to turn on alerts for various types of account activity, such as your available balance or transactions above a certain dollar amount. However, to truly protect someone over 55, it needs to go a step further. The CFPB recommends that financial institutions use technology to monitor older customers’ accounts for signs of financial exploitation. 

In particular, your financial institution should offer a financial oversight or protection service that determines what sort of transactions are normal for you so it can detect and alert you to suspicious activity or even mistakes. Not only will this help you quickly catch fraud, but also it can help you detect changes in your own financial behavior that can be signs you may need additional help. 

For example, banks such as Citizens & Northern Bank and The Cooperative Bank are partnering with the Carefull account-monitoring service to provide their older customers additional protection. Carefull’s smart money monitoring analyzes checking, savings and credit card accounts 24/7 and alerts account holders to signs of fraud and a variety of issues that can impact older adults’ finances—such as duplicate or late missed payments, swings in spending, unusual transfers and even charitable contributions that unknowingly recur. 

Find out whether your bank offers the opportunity to sign up for age-specific account monitoring. If not, you can sign up for a service such as Carefull on your own to protect your accounts against fraud and money mistakes.

[ Read: How to Catch Small Money Mistakes Before They Become Big Problems ]

Can I name a trusted contact for my account?

The CFPB’s 2016 advisory on preventing elder financial exploitation included a recommendation that financial institutions enable older account holders to designate a trusted contact. This person would be someone the financial institution could contact if it suspected that the account holder was a victim of financial abuse. 

Find out if your bank or credit union will allow you to name a trusted contact. Designating a trusted contact doesn’t give that person access to your account. However, it gives your financial institution someone it can contact if it can’t reach you or if it suspects that you are being financially exploited and need help protecting yourself. It’s an important safeguard to have on your account as you age and your risk of financial exploitation increases.

If your bank partners with Carefull or if you sign up for the service yourself, you can add trusted contacts to your accounts so they can get view-only access to your accounts and alerts when Carefull spots unusual activity. If your trusted family members can get a better feel for what’s normal for you by monitoring your accounts now, they’ll know better when to step in and help if more and more abnormal transactions pop up in your accounts. 

Do you offer age-friendly services and educate older customers on protecting their accounts?

A bank that prioritizes the protection of its older customers should offer services and information geared specifically to them. Ask if there are account features you can opt into such as limits on cash withdrawals and geographic transaction limits to protect your account if your debit card falls into the wrong hands. Find out if the bank will alert you to scams or provide educational material about staying safe online and avoiding fraud.

More importantly, your financial institution should be able to provide you with information about how to plan for incapacity—that is, the inability to manage your own finances. Find out what its requirements are for naming a power of attorney who would have the legal right to manage your account if you’re unable to yourself. Some financial institutions refuse to accept valid power of attorney documents, making it difficult for clients to get the help they need from those they trust to manage their finances. 

Do you help customers who are scammed get their money back?

You might not get as much help from your financial institution as you would expect if your account is targeted by scammers. Under the Electronic Funds Transfer Act and Regulation E, banks are only required to cover unauthorized transactions. For example, if someone stole your debit card and made purchases, you likely would get your money back if you reported those fraudulent transactions in a timely manner.

However, if a scammer talked you into making a payment with your debit card, credit card or a payment service such as Zelle, that transaction likely would be considered authorized because you made it. Banks typically won’t reimburse customers who lose money as a result of authorized transactions, even if they were conned into making those transactions. That said, you should ask your bank what sort of fraudulent losses it will cover. 

Find out whether it will walk you through the steps to take to report fraud and repair the damage. Also, ask if your financial institution offers additional protections against fraud, such as credit and identity monitoring. The Carefull service provides credit and identity monitoring and up to $1 million in identity theft insurance to repair the damage if your identity is stolen.

Bottom line

If your bank or credit union doesn’t offer most or all of the protections listed above, consider switching to another financial institution that does. You need to know that you can trust your financial institution to do everything it can to keep your money safe as you age.

[ Keep Reading: How to Protect Your Finances as You Age ]

Cameron Huddleston

Cameron Huddleston

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