Community banks are keeping veterans safe from fraud

A resident at the Allen Morgan Nursing home in Memphis enjoys the safety of the excellent care provided to him, with help from the Senior Crimestoppers program sponsored by SunTrust Bank.

CRA Partners’ programs help prevent theft and other crimes in veterans’ homes while providing Community Reinvestment Act benefits to participating banks.

By William Atkinson

The past year has been a trying time for America’s elderly population, who have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic—beyond the threat to their health. The Federal Trade Commission reported that losses to people age 60 and older from romance scams alone rose to $139 million in 2020 from $84 million the year before—likely due to seniors’ isolation and need for human connection.

“Many of our vulnerable citizens found themselves the victim of scammers pretending to assist with COVID-19-related services,” adds David Lenoir, president and CEO of CRA Partners’ Senior Housing Crime Prevention Foundation (SHCPF), an ICBA subsidiary. “[They’re] using medical and other ill-gotten personal information to perpetrate fraud and rob [elderly people] of their life savings.”

Although the SHCPF has been working to protect and assist seniors for two decades, it started a veterans’ initiative in 2010 to offer focused protection programs to veterans who reside in state-run veterans’ homes. The programs provide personal lock boxes for residents, signage to boost awareness of crime and elder abuse, ongoing training for home staff and much more. And the programs are sponsored by community banks.

“Community banks were interested in protecting all seniors within their community, especially those who have served our country and now live in veterans’ homes,” Lenoir says.

More community bank sponsors needed

Community banks are already sponsoring 39 veterans’ homes in 21 states through CRA Partners, but there are still 68 homes on the waiting list for sponsors. To address this, CRA Partners is running a campaign this month to encourage community banks to sign up as sponsors. Community bank sponsors will receive Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) credit for their efforts.

How do participating banks benefit? According to Lenoir, there is an obvious boost in community relations, as well as the opportunity to develop new business relationships, while ensuring safe, secure senior living environments for veterans.

On top of providing secure lock boxes to veterans, community banks can invest their CRA dollars to provide veterans’ homes with Wish Come True grants through CRA Partners. The annual checks go toward homes’ wish lists, which might include things like outdoor furniture, mobile devices and entertainment for residents.

One appreciative veterans’ home is the Lawton/Ft. Sill Veterans Center, a 200-bed facility in Lawton, Okla. “Our membership is being supported by the Senior Housing Crime Prevention Foundation,” says Michael Russell, administrator of the home. “In our facility, every resident has a securely mounted lockbox in which to secure their valuables in their room. These help provide peace of mind for the veterans and their families.”

In addition, the home has posters that encourage staff and residents to report suspected crimes. “These posters really do act as a deterrent,” Russell says. “Offering rewards for lost or stolen articles can show residents and their families that we are serious about the recovery of lost items.”

JD Bank in Jennings, La., is a longtime member of CRA Partners’ veterans’ home initiative.

“JD Bank has been involved with the Senior Housing Crime Prevention Foundation for a number of years as a way to serve some of the most vulnerable parts of our communities in a meaningful way, while also meeting our Community Reinvestment Act compliance obligations,” says George Shafer, senior vice president, attorney and chief compliance officer at the $1.35 billion-asset community bank.

For residents of the veterans’ homes JD Bank supports, the program has multiple benefits. “The residents, through the lock boxes, gain the ability to secure their belongings that they might otherwise not have, as well as the ability to report threats to health or well-being, if that becomes necessary,” Shafer says. “The initiative also supports annual appreciation ceremonies for the residents.”

[One benefit] is the positive goodwill generated in the community for our investments supporting these vulnerable members of our community.
—George Shafer, JD Bank

Generating goodwill

JD Bank benefits, too. “First is the positive goodwill generated in the community for our investments supporting these vulnerable members of our community,” Shafer says. The second benefit, he adds, is the community bank receives CRA credit for the entire underlying investment, provided that the underlying investment that funds the contribution is itself CRA-qualified. Shafer says this is an efficient way to meet its overall CRA investment obligations.

Providing a sense of security

Another participant in the veterans’ home initiative was Steven M. Schooley at his previous bank. A benefit for the veterans’ home with which the bank works is a recognized safer environment, where veterans “feel protected from the daily fear of crime, abuse, neglect and deprivation of personal freedom, and an appreciation that they are appreciated and have not been forgotten,” says Schooley, now executive vice president and chief financial officer, Oklahoma market, of $19.4 billion-asset Central Trust Bank in Jefferson City, Mo.

By giving some of its CRA dollars to enhance the quality of lives for elderly and infirm veterans, Schooley says they knew that they were protecting these seniors from crimes like theft, fraud and even physical and sexual abuse, Schooley says.

“As a result of the program, the SHCPF has noticed a significant reduction in the crime rate at these centers,” he says. “It’s gratifying to know that our partnership with the foundation has helped provide protection for senior veterans who have served our country.”

William Atkinson is a writer in Illinois.