CIRCLEVILLE — When Susan Marshall said that identifying elder abuse can come down to a simple gut feeling, people such as Lonnie Hunt and Ruth Murphy understood that completely.
“You come to know your customer’s habits. It’s that gut feeling,” said Murphy, an employee of Milton Banking in New Holland.
She and Hunt, her colleague who works in Ross County, were among law enforcement, residents, bankers and other businesspeople who attended the Safe Bank Project at Ohio Christian University on Thursday. The focus of the morning presentations was to talk about preventing the financial exploitation of senior citizens, which in many cases goes unreported and unrecognized. The program was arranged by the Pickaway County Sheriff’s Office.
Marshall is with the Ohio Adult Protective Services and she said that only about one out of 45 cases of elder financial abuse ever gets reported.
Each of the bankers said they were unaware of a 2018 law Marshall and Pickaway County Prosecutor Judy Wolford outlined that added their profession to a list of mandatory reporters — professional occupations — who must alert law enforcement when they suspect a senior is in trouble.
“If in your gut, you have a suspicion ... you need to feel comfortable reporting that information along,” Marshall said.
Further, Marshall encouraged banks and others to have a policy in place that spells out what employees must do when it happens.
Hunt said such incidents have happened rarely in his 45-year banking career, and added that normally they just talk with the people who might be trying to take advantage of a senior. He did like what he heard Thursday.
“A lot of this information is helpful,” said the bank’s assistant vice president.
Wolford said having banks report suspected maliciousness is good for them because it saves their clients, and it also may save a person’s life.
The elderly, she said, are often the targets of financial scams or abuse, which regularly are perpetrated by a family member. She also said Pickaway County banks are very good at alerting law enforcement when they suspect something.
Some tips she offered to detect financial abuse included tellers recognizing a change in the habits of their customers. Are they coming into the bank more often? Are they cashing checks more frequently?
“You are in the best position to stop this,” she told attendees.
Marshall said about 66 percent of senior abuse cases are committed by a family member. Those abuses can be verbal, emotional, physical, sexual, involve neglect/abandonment, and financial scams. Too many seniors in those positions never report it.
Overall, she said 105,000 Ohio seniors are abused annually.
Linda Majeska Powers works with the Ohio Attorney General Economic Crimes Unit of the Consumer Protection Division. She said the mandatory reporting requirement for the banks and other professions is working. Maybe not in crimes averted, but in the collaboration among the organizations and institutions that are touch points in the issue.
“In Ohio, I’m seeing a lot more of it,” she said.