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Take On Payments, a blog sponsored by the Retail Payments Risk Forum of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, is intended to foster dialogue on emerging risks in retail payment systems and enhance collaborative efforts to improve risk detection and mitigation. We encourage your active participation in Take on Payments and look forward to collaborating with you.

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June 10, 2019


The ABCs of Elder Financial Exploitation

In 2011, the World Health Organization designated June 15 as World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. So each year, a number of organizations supporting the elderly run educational campaigns throughout the month of June aimed at increasing awareness of elder abuse. This crime has a number of different forms: physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, neglect and abandonment, and financial exploitation.

We covered the growing impact of elder financial abuse in terms of numbers in a post last August. That growth is being driven by a double whammy: the surge in the senior population and the proliferation of available exploitation attack channels, thanks to the internet. Because none of this is likely to slow down for some time, education is critical. As the Retail Payments Risk Forum has stressed before, education is an important element in curbing fraud, and this area is no exception.

Here are some of the more common financial scams targeting the elderly:

  • Charity: The victim receives a request, usually over the telephone or in a public place, for donations for natural disaster relief or other good causes, but the funds are not used for such purposes.
  • Sweepstakes/lottery: The victim receives a letter, email, or telephone call with the news that they have won a lottery or cash sweepstakes—but they have to pay a tax or administrative fee in advance.
  • Home repairs: Someone tells the victim that some aspect of their property needs repair—for example, the driveway, roof shingles, or gutters—and it can be done inexpensively since there is a "crew already in the area." The victim must pay by cash or check in advance, but the crew never appears to do the work.
  • Romance: The fraudster, often posing under a false identity, makes romantic overtures and eventually asks the victim to send money so he or she can travel to meet them.
  • Tax: The victim receives a phone call from the fraudster claiming to be an IRS agent pursuing back taxes and unless the victim sends funds immediately, they will be subject to arrest. A variant of this scam involves the perpetrator posing as a police officer pursuing unpaid traffic tickets or other infractions.
  • Virus: A "technical support" company calls the victim, claiming that a virus has infected the victim’s computer. For the payment of a "modest fee," the company can download software that can kill the virus and protect the computer against future attacks. Often, the software downloaded actually contains some form of malware that may allow the criminal to compromise the banking credentials of the victim.
  • Other advance fee fraud: The fraudster requests money to help a relative in jail or stranded on the roadside. The situations are completely false but might contain some element of truth as the scammer may have found information on social media providing a name or that the named individual is out of town.
  • Identity theft: The criminal communicates with the victim through social media, telephone, or email to obtain bank account or other information allowing them to attempt a wide variety of fraudulent activities including credit applications, unauthorized account transactions, and more.
  • Investments: The victim is convinced to purchase an annuity or some other investment with a supposed lucrative payback.

Sadly, most elder financial abuse is committed by family or other people who are trusted with care of the elderly, which makes the crime more difficult to detect. Such abuses range from the transfer of property or securities to the theft of liquid assets through check writing or ATM withdrawals.

While researching this issue, I was heartened to learn that various organizations are developing or improving software products to help spot potential financial exploitation or to provide training materials. The American Association of Retired Persons recently launched a pilot program for financial institutions called BankSafe. It is a free online training program with educational material presented in different formats, including video games, distributed by the Independent Community Bankers of America and the Credit Union National Association, and, directly, by some financial institutions. In addition, a recent Dow Jones Institutional News article highlighted some fintech products designed to alert trustees of unusual or suspicious activity.

If you know of any valuable programs or organizational efforts to increase awareness of elder financial abuse, please let us know.

Photo of David LottBy David Lott, a payments risk expert in the Retail Payments Risk Forum at the Atlanta Fed

June 10, 2019 in crime, identity theft, theft | Permalink

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June 3, 2019


Hitting the Brakes on the Cashless Society

"Reverse ATMs" is a term I learned from reading my colleague Oz Shy's new working paper, "Cashless Stores and Cash Users." At venues that don't accept cash at the register, the patron puts cash into the reverse ATM and a loaded prepaid card comes out. Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, for example, is one of the latest venues to adopt this practice.

Speaking of "reverse," I'm sure you know that some states and municipalities are seeking to reverse what may—or may not—be a trend toward brick-and-mortar retailers not accepting cash. Refusing to accept cash has been illegal in Massachusetts, where I live, since 1978. More recent developments:

  • Philadelphia will ban cashless stores beginning in July.
  • In March, New Jersey outlawed cashless restaurants and stores.
  • In May, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted to require brick-and-mortar businesses to accept cash.
  • Also in May, Representative David Cicilline (D-RI) introduced the Cash Buyer Discrimination Act, which would require businesses all across the United States to accept cash.

These and other proposed laws are predicated on the idea that people without access to payment cards or digital payments are harmed when they cannot make purchases using their payment instrument of choice: cash. Oz's paper adds to the conversation by examining the choices consumers make at the point of sale, depending on their access to different ways to pay.

Using data from the 2017 Diary of Consumer Payment Choice, Oz found that consumers who own different mixes of payment instruments use cash with different intensity to make in-person purchases:

  • Diary respondents who own neither a credit card nor a nonprepaid debit card made almost 9 in 10 of their in-person payments with cash, on average. The median share of cash purchases was 100 percent.
  • Diary respondents who own at least one credit card and one nonprepaid debit card make about one-third of their in-person payments with cash, on average. The median share was 20 percent.

Oz goes on to calculate the cost to the cash payers who do not have credit or nonprepaid debit cards of switching from cash to a prepaid card. He finds that, all things being equal, for some consumers, using cash would have to cost twice as much as using a prepaid card for the cash users to be indifferent to switching. Oz's conclusion: "A complete transition to cashless stores imposes a measureable burden on consumers who do not have credit or [nonprepaid] debit cards." For perspective, 8.5 percent of respondents with household income below the U.S. median ($61,000) did not have a credit card or nonprepaid debit card in 2017, according to the diary.

As this research shows, cash is important to some consumers. The cashless society could be on a collision course with reality.

June 3, 2019 in cards, consumer protection, credit cards, currency | Permalink

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