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Attorney General William P. Barr announced earlier this spring the opening of the National Elder Fraud Hotline, 1-833-FRAUD-11, a recent tool in the Department of Justice’s ongoing strategy to bring to justice those who seek to defraud older Americans. The Office of Justice Programs’ Office for Victims of Crime manages the hotline, which since its opening on March 3 has received over 1,800 calls.
One caller received a computer pop-up that said she needed to secure her account. After providing her financial information, the scammer took at least $30,000. Another called to report that he lost $200,000 over four years to someone who had deceived him into thinking she was his girlfriend. And a third was still waiting for a contractor to come through on a roof repair—for which the caller had paid months earlier.
These callers represent only a few victims of deceptions that often target our seniors. The Justice Department estimates that financial exploitation, the most common form of elder abuse, afflicts one in ten seniors. According to the “2018 DOJ Report on Elder Abuse and Financial Exploitation,” each year an estimated $3 billion is stolen from America’s seniors through a variety of mass mailing, romance, and vendor or contractor scams. They may also fall prey to imposters who claim to represent the IRS, Medicare or Medicaid, or Social Security.
From 2013 to 2017, financial scams and other crimes that focus on older Americans quadrupled, according to a report by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The advent and growth of the Internet and other technology have made them especially vulnerable. These crimes are particularly heartless, because victims may lose their life savings and usually do not have the time or opportunity, or resources or technological savvy, to recover from financial loss. The Justice Department expects the problem only to increase as our country’s older population continues to grow.
The National Elder Fraud Hotline serves all adults ages 60 and older seven days a week. Reporting financial losses from some types of fraud as soon as possible—even within three days—can increase the likelihood of recovering them. Reporting is essential because it is the first step in connecting the victim to authorities and can help identify those who commit fraud—preventing additional victims.
Upon receiving a call, a trained customer advocate assesses the need and provides resources, or connects the caller to an experienced case manager. The case manager identifies the appropriate reporting agency, such as local law enforcement, Adult Protective Services or a bank, and assists in making the report. As needed, the case manager provides resources and referrals, and can complete a complaint form with the FBI or Federal Trade Commission.
Many schemes that target American seniors are carried out by foreign-based entities. To investigate and prosecute these crimes, the Department established the Transnational Elder Strike Force, which President Trump’s Executive Order called for in July 2018. A National Elder Abuse Coordinator was appointed, and a prosecutor in each of the 94 U.S. Attorney’s Offices focuses on these crimes in the district.
In addition to the hotline, OJP’s Office for Victims of Crime supports those exploited by fraud through funding to private organizations, and tribal, local and state government agencies. Today, OJP announced the awarding of nearly $2 million for law enforcement training and technical assistance to help elder fraud victims and connect them to available resources. The National White Collar Crime Center will receive $1,940,738 to work with the International Association of Chiefs of Police to identify current training, tools and practices used to address elder fraud.
OVC anticipates awarding another $6 million to enhance services available for those recovering from these crimes. These funds boost its largest share of grant funding, which provides numerous services to crime victims through the Victims of Crime Act. In Fiscal Year 2019, more than 5,500 organizations nationwide served more than 357,000 individuals who were age 60 or older.
OJP is committed to helping the victims of elder abuse. We want to do all we can to ensure that our seniors enjoy their golden years with a sense of security, peace of mind, and the support of those they love.