By Biometrica staffer
On Tuesday, Oct. 19, the Department of Justice (DOJ) submitted its annual Activities to Combat Elder Fraud and Abuse report to Congress, covering all efforts on this front between July 1, 2020 and June 30, 2021. The summarizing report disclosed that the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) was able to freeze fraudulent transactions worth over $13.5 million by cooperating with financial institutions, representing a 75% success rate in protecting elders from losing funds through wire transfers.
Elder fraud has been of particular concern since March 2020 as a result of the pandemic and the ongoing opioid crisis, per the report. In 2020, the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) published its first-ever report on elder fraud, finding that more than 100,000 people aged 60 and over had filed a complaint over fraud, with a collective loss estimated at nearly $1 billion.
As Attorney General Merrick B. Garland put it: “For too long, elderly people have faced abuse, neglect, and exploitation. Even before the beginning of the worst pandemic in more than a century, a study supported by the Justice Department’s National Institute of Justice found that at least one in 10 older Americans are victims of some form of elder abuse each year.”
The types of fraud tackled by the DOJ in this period included tech support scams, veteran scams, and scams run by an elderly person’s guardian, family, or person with power of attorney. This latter category has been termed “particularly egregious” by the DOJ, as “these individuals hold a special duty to care” for their elderly wards. The department also fought back against mass marketing and robocall fraud perpetrated by some data companies and list brokers.
Combating elder fraud is particularly crucial, as they present as attractive targets to potential criminals. They are more likely to have large sums saved up over their entire careers in retirement funds; they are also more likely to own lucrative assets like houses and to have good credit ratings. With all types of crime now increasingly moving online, elderly people are even more susceptible, due to their unfamiliarity and/or discomfort with new technology.
In addition, the elderly are more reluctant to report fraud or may not even know how. The FBI found that older people are more likely to be ashamed of having been the victim of a scam or may be worried that their families will lose confidence in them if they talk about it. The DOJ’s Elder Justice Initiative also says that older people “tend to be trusting and polite.”
Some of the most common types of fraud the elderly fall prey to include, as we wrote in July, romance scams, confidence scams, grandparent scams, online shopping scams, sweepstakes/lottery scams, investment scams, and government agency impersonation scams.
The DOJ also focused on boosting training for federal, state, and local law enforcement and specialists in elder justice. Also of importance were public outreach and awareness programs, through town halls and media events attended by local U.S. Attorney’s Officers. This also included the ongoing commemoration of World Elder Abuse Awareness Day.
On that occasion, AG Garland said the DOJ’s annual budget for the 2022 financial year would seek an increase of 44% over the previous year’s, specifically for elder justice efforts. He said, “The Justice Department will continue to use all its available tools to prevent and combat elder abuse, neglect, and exploitation – from enforcement actions to public awareness campaigns, and from training and technical assistance to victims’ services and legal aid.” There are also a number of pieces of legislation designed to protect the elderly from abuse, neglect, and fraud that are pending before Congress.
Though elder abuse and fraud is not a recent development, its growth has been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, which left elderly people more isolated, vulnerable, and susceptible to illnesses. According to AG Garland, “The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed and exacerbated injustices faced by far too many of the most vulnerable among us, including older Americans and elderly people around the world.” In particular, internet-based fraud targeting elders, those that established a personal connection with an elderly person, and healthcare-based fraud were rampant.