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November 04, 2019

Elder fraud and justice addressed at ABA meeting

Assistant Attorney General Beth A. Williams of the Office of Legal Policy emphasized working with providers of civil legal aid to help combat issues of elder fraud and abuse during her speech at the American Bar Association Commission on Law and Aging’s 2019 National Aging and Law Conference held Oct. 31 in Arlington, Va. 

Assistant Attorney General Beth A. Williams of the Office of Legal Policy address elder justice issues at ABA meeting.

Assistant Attorney General Beth A. Williams of the Office of Legal Policy address elder justice issues at ABA meeting.

American Bar Association photo

“We know this problem can’t be solved through federal prosecutions alone,” Williams said. “The victims of these schemes must be made whole for justice truly to be served.”

Williams said the Department of Justice and others in the federal government “must have cooperative relationships” with the people “who can connect victims with the information and services they need to put the pieces back together.”

In the audience were lawyers, advocates and experts in the field of elder care and justice.

Noting that every U.S. Attorney’s Office has an elder justice coordinator, Williams said those in the position are a “fantastic resource for practitioners.” She said when a coordinator and prosecutor work together, they “help ensure that criminals are brought to justice and that victims are served in a fulsome way.”

In a separate panel at the conference, “Empowering Older Adults to Fight Scams and Financial Exploitation in Their Community,” experts detailed the financial exploitation of older Americans.

Hector Ortiz, a researcher at the Consumer Financial Protecting Bureau  said that many cases involving the abuse of elders’ finances go unreported. He explained that many older adults fail to report because of embarrassment, fear of retaliation, fear of being declared incompetent, dependence on the abuser, self-blame, and lack of awareness, among several reasons.

He encouraged the room of lawyers and elder care providers to share information on resources about frauds and scams to help prevent abuse.

“You are the first line of defense,” Ortiz said.

The illegal or improper use of an older person’s funds, property or assets is generally perpetrated by everyone from “close family members to offshore scammers,” he said.

Some examples included the theft of money by caregivers or in-home helpers, exploitation by agents, investment frauds, and lottery or sweepstakes scams. 

According to a recent study, 93% of adults ages 65 and older are solicited to participate in a likely fraudulent offer, Ortiz said.

Lisa Weintraub Schifferle, an attorney with the Federal Trade Commission, said the top three categories for elder fraud reports are imposter scams, debt collection and identity theft. She noted that the phone, followed by online to emails, were the top ways scammers contacted older consumers.

Tech support led as the top scam method to prey on older adults’ lack of knowledge concerning computer fixes and viruses.

“You never let a stranger in your house. Don’t let them in your computer,” Schifferle said.

Oftentimes people click on pop-ups or people call pretending to be part of a legitimate company and older adults will give out their passwords, which opens the door to malware and financial loss, she said.

The FTC has a campaign around preventing these acts, including videos that are free for the community to use in presentations.

“Be empowered to put a stop and protect yourself from scams,” Schifferle said.

Schifferle said that because people have “gotten the word out” and since the FTC started its Pass It On campaign, the number of IRS imposter scams has gone down.

Her top tip is “Never give control of your computer or your credit card information to someone who calls you out of the blue.” Schifferle said to also report a scam as soon as it happens. 

Online dating scams are also popular, she said. They generally involve a love interest needing money for a plane ticket or “much needed” surgery. “Never wire money, put money on a prepaid card or send cash to an online love interest,” she warned. “You won’t get it back.”

Odette Williamson, an attorney with National Consumer Law Center, said they have an attorney on call every day to help older Americans navigate abuse issues, and that there is no deadline for reporting discrepancies one might find on their credit card billing statements.

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