Posted by: Jason T. Johns
In the largest ever nationwide elder fraud sweep, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) has identified more than 260 defendants, accounting for more than 750 million dollars defrauded. In each case, the defendants allegedly engaged in financial tactics that either specifically targeted or mostly affected seniors. The fraud operations are evident in every federal district in the United States.
Some of the more prevalent schemes used by con artists are:
- Fake drug discount cards;
- Obtaining remote access to computers under the guise of technical support;
- Posing as a relative in distress needing cash (the “grandparents scheme”);
- Insurance fees to collect nonexistent sweepstakes prizes;
- Mass mailings and money mule fraud; and
- Posing as debt collectors.
In one of the most horrific cases, an 83-year-old woman was defrauded of her life savings by her caregiver; with no means to afford her retirement home bills, the woman took her own life.
In earlier decades, fraud schemes were not uncommon. However, snail mail and phone scams reached more limited victims. Now that digital technology, the Internet, email, and social media are so pervasive, transnational criminal organizations are “all in” to defraud the elderly. Such crimes come at a time when the cost to a senior’s life is frequently “catastrophic and irreversible,” according to Attorney General William P. Barr. As the numbers of incidence continue to rise, the DOJ has vowed to prosecute these crimes with an all-out attack against these swindlers. The current sweep involves 13% more criminal defendants, twice the amount of fraud victims, and 28% more in elder monetary losses. In total, over 2 million older adults were affected by the current alleged fraud crimes.
The transnational component of elder fraud cannot be overstated. The Office of International Affairs through the DOJ is working with numerous countries to secure evidence and capture defendants. Extraditions from Canada, The Cayman Islands, Costa Rica, Jamaica, and Poland are all part of this latest sweep of elder fraud cases. The International Mass-Marketing Fraud Working Group (IMMFWG) is a network of criminal and civil law enforcement agencies, including Belgium, Canada, Europol, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States, working to stop international fraud. By sharing information and providing avenues for criminal extradition, this international body is a model of cooperation against specific threats that endanger the financial well-being of a member country’s residents.
What can you do at home to help protect yourself or a loved one from financial scams? Education is critical as to how these fraud operations function. A scammer will try to evoke a strong emotional response in their targeted senior to persuade them to part with their money. When a senior experiences a heightened emotion, like excitement or anger, they are more susceptible to opt in on a risky decision. So a senior should not make what is called a “first flush” decision. Allow 24 hours to pass before opting in on an enticing scheme if you are becoming overly excited and feel pressure to make a quick decision. Shut down your contact with the person or organization and wait.
One of the easiest ways to avoid scams is never giving out personal information to unknown entities. Ask for credentials, speak to supervisors, do a background check, get another trusted individual in your life involved in what you are considering BEFORE making any decisions. Have systems in place for a trusted family member or financial professional to approve of financial transactions when they are outside the scope of your normal daily purchases or bill payments. Also, review any automatic deductions in your bank account monthly. Scammers often start with a small withdrawal to see if there is oversight in the account that targets fraud or identity theft.
Consumers can file elder fraud complaints with the Federal Trade Commission at www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov or by calling (877) FTC-HELP. The DOJ provides resources relating to elder fraud victimization through its Office of Victims of Crime. Get educated; learn more ways to protect yourself by connecting with trusted counsel.
If you have questions or would like to discuss anything you’ve read, please don’t hesitate to contact us.
Our firm is dedicated to helping our clients and their loved ones work through issues and implement sound legal planning to address them. If we can help in any way, please don’t hesitate to contact our office at (630) 221-1755.