Justice Department observes World Elder Abuse Awareness Day
Last updated 6/17/2020 at 7:43am
District of Montana U.S. Attorney Kurt Alme joined U.S. Attorney General William P. Barr and the entire Department of Justice Monday in observing the 15th Annual World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. The Department echoes voices around the world condemning elder abuse, neglect and exploitation.
The COVID-19 pandemic has created unprecedented challenges for the country and the world, but among those most severely affected by the threat of the novel virus are senior citizens. During this time when seniors are most vulnerable and isolated from their families and loved ones by social distancing and quarantine restrictions, bad actors have immediately exploited this international tragedy to prey on the elderly through a whole host of scam and fraud schemes. As the world took Monday to remember the elderly during these uncertain times, the Department of Justice remains relentlessly committed, through its department-wide Elder Justice Initiative, to prevent and prosecute fraud on America’s seniors.
The Bureau of Justice Statistics National Crime Victimization Survey in 2014 estimated that more than 13 percent of seniors are victims of financial fraud annually, and only one in 44 cases of financial abuse is reported. Montana, Maine and Florida have the largest proportion of residents age 65 and older, at 19 percent. Montana also has the sixth-highest proportion of seniors living alone at almost 30 percent.
“All of us in Montana need to be vigilant to protect our large number of senior friends, family and neighbors. We not only have a high percentage of seniors living alone, but the coronavirus also has isolated many even further and generated a host of new scams targeting them. If you are a victim of fraud or abuse, or you know someone who may be — report it,” Alme said. “We will prosecute senior scams to the full extent of the law.”
The U.S. Attorney’s Office has brought federal charges in several cases of elder fraud. In two recent cases:
• A former loan officer for a Billings bank admitted to stealing more than $243,000 in customer funds for his own benefit. One of the customers was a mentally incompetent elderly man. When confronted, the loan officer made misrepresentations to hide the thefts. The loan officer was sentenced in January to 57 months in prison and ordered to pay $195,949 restitution.
• A Fairfield man, who posed as a financial services manager, stole more than $700,000 from a Montana family and then spent the money for his own benefit. The offender was convicted and sentenced to 28 months in prison and ordered to pay $719,340 restitution to the family and $165,195 restitution to the IRS.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office and Department of Justice also have produced a Public Service Announcement to help fight elder fraud. The PSA may be viewed here: https://www.justice.gov/usao-mt/video/district-montana-elder-fraud-psa-60-seconds
Earlier this year, Barr declared “Prevention and Disruption of Transnational Elder Fraud” to be an Agency Priority Goal, making it one of the Department’s four top priorities.
Major strides have already been made to that end:
• Eastern Montana Elder Justice Council: Created in 2019 to address exploitation, abuse and neglect of Montana’s aging population. The task force is composed of members representing public and private sectors in areas of criminal and civil law, finance, health care, insurance, and general senior and disability services and advocacy.
• National Elder Fraud Hotline: 833-FRAUD-11 or 1-833-372-8311.
Earlier this year Attorney General Barr launched a Nationa1Elder Fraud Hotline. Staffed by experienced case managers who provide personalized support to callers, the hotline serves to assist elders and caretakers who believe they have been a victim of fraud by reporting and providing appropriate service. The online link to the hotline is: https://stopelderfraud.ovc.ojp.gov .
• Transnational Elder Fraud Strike Force: Established in June 2019 to combat foreign elder fraud schemes, the Strike Force is composed of the Department’s Consumer Protection Branch and six U.S. Attorneys’ Offices along with FBI special agents, Postal Inspectors, and numerous other law enforcement personnel. Since its inception, prosecutors in Strike Force districts brought cases against more than 140 sweep defendants.
• Annual Elder Justice Sweep: In March of this year, the Attorney General announced the largest coordinated sweep of elder fraud cases in department history. The Department, together with every U.S. Attorney’s office, charged more than 400 defendants, causing over $1 billion in loss through fraud schemes that largely affected seniors.
• Money Mule Initiative: Since October 2018, the Department and its law enforcement partners began a concentrated effort across the country and around the world to disrupt, investigate, and prosecute money mule activity used to facilitate fraud schemes, especially those victimizing senior citizens. In a money mule scam, the scammer sends someone a check to deposit then to send money to someone else, often asking the victim to use a gift card or wire transfer. In 2019 actions were taken to halt the conduct of more than 600 domestic money mules, exceeding a similar effort against approximately 400 mules in the previous year.
• Holding foreign-based perpetrators and those that flee the United States accountable: Transnational criminal organizations are targeting the elder population in schemes including mass mailing fraud, grandparent scams, romance scams, lottery and sweepstakes scams, IRS and Social Security Administration imposter scams, and technical-support scams.
For more information on enforcement actions, training and resources, research, and victim services, please visit http://www.justice.gov/elderjustice .