The US Department of Justice (DOJ) recently conducted the largest ever elder fraud sweep and charged over 250 defendants with fraud, representing over 750 million dollars. 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.
Fake drug discount cards, remote access to computers under the guise of technical support, relative in distress needing cash stories (the so-called “grandparents scheme”), insurance fees to collect nonexistent sweepstakes prizes, mass mailings and money mule fraud, and posing as debt collectors are some of the more prevalent schemes used by con artists. 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 sadly took her own life.
In earlier decades fraud schemes were not uncommon. Snail mail and phone scams however reached more limited victims. Now that digital technology, the internet, email, and social media is pervasive, transnational criminal organizations are “all in” to defraud the elderly of their money at a time when the cost to a senior’s life is frequently “catastrophic and irreversible” according to Attorney General William P. Barr. The Justice Department has vowed to prosecute these despicable crimes with an all-out attack against these swindlers and it’s a good thing as the numbers of incidence continue to rise. The current sweep involves 13 percent more criminal defendants, twice the amount of fraud victims and 28 percent more in elder monetary losses. In total, over 2 million older adults were affected by the current alleged fraud crimes.
The transnational component of elderly fraud cannot be understated. 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 elderly fraud cases. Law enforcement partnerships such as 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. 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 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. For example, a senior experiencing a high arousal emotion like excitement or anger makes them 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 auto 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 https://reportfraud.ftc.gov/ or 877-FTC-HELP. The Department of Justice 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 an estate planning attorney. Estate planning documents can be designed to prevent yourself or a loved one from being a victim. Legal “firewalls” can be inserted into revocable living trusts and incorporated into powers of attorney. Deeds to real estate can be modified so that an elder cannot transfer title or sell the property to a scam artist without the consent of a trusted advisor.
If you have questions or would like to discuss anything you’ve read, please don’t hesitate to contact us. Please contact us today at 877-585-1885 to schedule a free consultation to discuss your legal matters.
Thanks for reading.
Christopher E. Botti, Esq., Certified Specialist in Estate Planning, Trust and Probate Law