For most consumers, elder fraud isn’t on their radar. But those with aging parents may know all about the scams that are being perpetrated -- investment scams, insurance scams, the rising “grandparent scam,” and even timeshare scams. With the aid or improved technology, those who run scams and other crimes singling out older Americans quadrupled from 2013 to 2017, which led to more than $6 billion in fraud losses.
One aging baby boomer -- 69-year-old U.S. Attorney General (AG) William Barr -- has decided that it’s time the Department of Justice (DOJ) needs to take on elder fraud as a mission.
“What makes these crimes particularly heinous is not only the vulnerability of the victims, not only the breach of trust involved, but also the victims’ stage in life – the victims usually do not have the opportunity to recover from the financial loss,” the AG remarked in a speech on Tuesday.
Not even the Attorney General is safe
In a statement, Barr explained that he had also been used by scammers to defraud other people.
“I myself was used as a lure in a scam,” Barr shared. “My official Justice Department portrait from 1992 was uploaded to various websites. My fake persona was informing people that, as the former Attorney General, I had special access to government grants, and that if people sent me some money, I would tell them how to get a lot of money in exchange.”
And, then, what happened, Bill?
“I started getting phone calls from people asking why they had not received their money. My portrait kept appearing on these bogus websites, and I kept getting calls at my office. These were frantic calls. Some people were desperately hoping this was not a scam. Others who called were embarrassed and wanted to let me know this was going on, and to know who they could contact for support. I remember a number of the calls. One woman from Georgia explained that she and her husband had lost their life savings: $40,000.”
Introducing the Elder Fraud Hotline
To get closer to the root of these scams, the DOJ knows that the crooks responsible for these crimes rely on their victims’ keeping quiet. And, for the most part, victims do -- often because they simply feel ashamed that they fell for the hustle.
Barr says it’s time for victims to act and speak up -- without fear.
Enter the National Elder Fraud Hotline, a service that will give adults aged 60 and older a safe place to contact and seek assistance.
The multilingual service will be staffed by case managers with fraud prevention experience who will report any suspected fraud to relevant agencies and provide resources and referrals to other relevant services. Those actions include filing a complaint with the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) for Internet-facilitated crimes and consumer complaints to the Federal Trade Commission.
To give added solace to the victims, the Hotline promises that it will assign a case worker who will stay with the consumer through the entire process.
“Reporting is the first step,” Barr said. “It can help authorities identify those who commit fraud, which can prevent others from becoming victims… (but) It will require everyone working together. It will demand a close partnership between the public sector and the private sector.”
“Every one of us must do our part too. If you are a local banker who spots something fishy, call. If you are a cashier who sees a senior buying gift cards in bulk, step forward and say something.”
The number for the new Elder Fraud Hotline is 1-833-FRAUD-11 (1-833-372-8311).