Recent Developments in D.C. To Combat Financial Abuse of the Elderly
by Robert M. Jaworski, Esq.
Financial abuse of the elderly is getting some attention in Washington these days, and, some say, it‚Äôs about time.¬† On February 22, 2018, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and law enforcement partners announced the largest coordinated sweep of elder fraud cases in history.¬† In addition, it was reported on March 13, 2018, that an elder fraud bill sponsored by Senate Aging Committee Chairwoman Susan Collins (R-Maine) was recently folded into the banking regulation bill (S. 2155) that is expected to be approved by the Senate in the near future.¬† Details concerning both of these developments are set forth below.
Nationwide Elder Fraud Sweep Coordinated by the Department of Justice
The cases, which include criminal, civil and forfeiture actions, involve more than 250 defendants from around the globe. They are charged with victimizing more than a million Americans, most of whom are elderly.¬† Of the defendants, more than 200 have been charged criminally.
The actions charged a variety of fraud schemes, including large scale mass mailing, telemarketing and investment frauds, as well as individual instances of identity theft and theft by guardians.¬† One case alone concerned a scheme that operated from 14 foreign countries and resulted in losses to American victims totaling more than $30 million.
Mass mailing schemes.¬† In each of the mass mailing schemes, fraudsters sent direct-mail letters to individuals falsely promising them that they had won cash or other valuable prizes.¬† All they had to do to claim their prizes was to send back a payment for what was represented as processing fees or taxes. The letters appeared to come from legitimate sources, typically on official-looking letterhead, and to have been personally addressed to each recipient. When an individual took the bait and sent the requested fee, the fraudsters simply kept the money.¬† No victim ever received a promised prize.¬† Worse yet, when people showed a susceptibility to these scams, the fraudsters repeatedly targeted and victimized them with other scams.
Other Schemes.¬† Other examples of elder financial exploitation schemes prosecuted by the Department of Justice include:
- ‚ÄúLottery phone scams,‚Äù in which callers convince seniors that a large fee or taxes must be paid before one can receive lottery winnings;
- ‚ÄúGrandparent scams,‚Äù which convince seniors that their grandchildren have been arrested and need bail money;
- ‚ÄúRomance scams,‚Äù which lull victims to believe that their online paramour needs funds for a U.S. visit or some other purpose;
- ‚ÄúIRS imposter schemes,‚Äù which defraud victims by posing as IRS agents and claiming that victims owe back taxes; and
- ‚ÄúGuardianship schemes,‚Äù which siphon seniors‚Äô financial resources into the bank accounts of deceitful relatives or guardians;
The Department of Justice indicates that it has partnered with Senior Corps to educate seniors about these types of scams and prevent further victimization.¬† Senior Corps is a national service program administered by an independent federal agency, the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS).¬† You can access information on Senior Corps‚Äô efforts to reduce elder fraud by clicking here.¬† If you suspect that you are a victim of a scam, you can file a report with the Federal Trade Commission by clicking here.¬† Finally, remember that the best way to avoid becoming a victim of a scam is to be skeptical of anything that sounds too good to be true.¬† It probably is too good to be true!¬† Check it out first.
Senator Collins Elder Fraud Bill
This bill, Senate Bill S-223, which is called the ‚ÄúSenior$afe Act of 2017,‚Äù strives to prevent elder financial abuse by encouraging financial institutions (including credit unions, insurance agencies, banks, investment advisers, and broker-dealers) and their employees to sound an alarm bell whenever they suspect that an elderly person is being financially exploited.¬† The bill seeks to accomplish this objective by immunizing these institutions and employees from potential liability in any civil or administrative proceeding for disclosing such suspicions.
This immunity, however, is subject to the following conditions:
- The disclosure is made only to a State or Federal banking or securities regulator, a State insurance regulator, a law enforcement agency, and/or a State or local adult protective services agency.
- The disclosing employee must be a supervisor or compliance officer employed by the financial institution at the time of the disclosure and have made the disclosure in good faith and with reasonable care.
- The disclosing employee must have previously received training from the financial institution, appropriate to the employee‚Äôs job responsibilities, concerning (1) how to identify and report suspected exploitation of a senior citizen internally and, as appropriate, to government officials or law enforcement authorities, including common signs that indicate the financial exploitation of a senior citizen, and (2) the need to protect the privacy and respect the integrity of each individual customer of the financial institution.
Interestingly, New Jersey already has a similar law on the books, which dates back to 1998.¬† The New Jersey Foundation for Aging helped to educate concerned individuals and agencies about that law following its enactment.
Mr. Jaworski is a member of the NJFA Board of Trustees and an attorney with the law firm Reed Smith, LLP.¬† He specializes in providing banks and other financial institutions with advice and assistance concerning their responsibilities to comply with applicable federal and state laws and regulations, including, in particular, consumer protection laws and regulations.