n November 12, 2009, television station CBS 5 revealed an alarming string of thefts from elderly customers by a bank employee.

In one incident, an employee ordered duplicate ATM cards when an 86-year-old customer reported his card lost. The employee had friends use the duplicates to withdraw $8,000 from the customer’s account. The customer was unaware of the theft until he was notified that his account was overdrawn, which had never happened to him before.

In another, an employee befriended a customer and was writing checks out for her to sign, some of which were for legitimate bills and others of which were payable to the employee.

Larson said an employee at this Bank of America branch in Lafayette befriended her mother [77-year-old Frances Saimons]. “He was more than very nice. He was charming,” Saimons said.

Saimons said he helped her manage her finances. “Always, he always wrote my checks out,” she said. “He would say sign there, and I would sign it.”

The customer did not realize that $28,000 in checks had been made out to the employee until a bank investigator visited her daughter. The employee claimed that the checks were loans, although the victim denied this and the bank has a policy forbidding such a practice.

Family members are often reluctant to interfere in the personal business of an elder, which is understandable. But polite inquiry about their opinion of the bank, whether they find the bank employees helpful and how, might be acceptable. Sometimes the elder will permit a family member review bank statements. The sooner problems are spotted, the more quickly damage can be limited and, hopefully, remedies sought.

Financial elder abuse can be a crime, and banks are mandatory reporters to Adult Protective Services (APS) when they become aware of such behavior. Notify the bank and APS immediately if you suspect abuse. To obtain more information or to report adult or elder abuse call APS at (510) 577-3500 or toll free at (866) 225-5277, 24 hours a day and all referrals are confidential.