Posts Tagged ‘economic security’

Recent Developments in D.C. To Combat Financial Abuse of the Elderly

Thursday, March 15th, 2018

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’s about time.  On February 22, 2018, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and law enforcement partners announced[1] the largest coordinated sweep of elder fraud cases in history.  In addition, it was reported[2] 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:

  • “Lottery phone scams,” in which callers convince seniors that a large fee or taxes must be paid before one can receive lottery winnings;
  • “Grandparent scams,” which convince seniors that their grandchildren have been arrested and need bail money;
  • “Romance scams,” which lull victims to believe that their online paramour needs funds for a U.S. visit or some other purpose;
  • “IRS imposter schemes,” which defraud victims by posing as IRS agents and claiming that victims owe back taxes; and
  • “Guardianship schemes,” which siphon seniors’ 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’ 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[3], which is called the “Senior$afe Act of 2017,” 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’s 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.

 

 

 

Phone Scams

Tuesday, January 31st, 2017

Here are NJFA, we like to make sure we are keeping folks aware of scams and fraud issues. Our February episode of Aging Insights, is titled, Stop Identity Theft and features two guests that will help viewers to protect themselves. We also want to address a scam that’s been in the news.

Recently, news outlets across the United States reported on a new scam referred to as the “can you hear me?” telephone scam. According to those reports, the scam begins with an unsolicited phone call. After the caller makes contact they ask the recipient “Can you hear me?” to elicit a response of “yes,” and a potential onslaught of unauthorized charges ensues.

The story goes that if you get this call and respond “yes” to the question, “can you hear me?” that the scammer could be recording it and could use it against you. There is the possibility that you could receive a bill for something you did not purchase or agree to and when you go to dispute the bill you will be presented with your own voice saying “yes” on the recording.

The first thing we want to warn readers about is if you don’t know the caller or are suspicious of their intent, you should always hang up. Do not give personal information or engage the caller in conversation if you have doubts about the legitimacy of the call. You should also contact the appropriate authority to report any issues or to verify any information you are given on the call. For example, if the caller claims to be from your utility company, call the # on your monthly statement to verify your account status or any issues.

After some additional research, we’d also like you to know what some investigators have discovered about this scam. According to the fact-finding website, Snopes, “we haven’t yet been able to identify any scenario under which a scammer could authorize charges in another person’s name simply by possessing a voice recording of that person saying “yes,” without also already possessing a good deal of personal and account information for that person, and without being able to reproduce any other form of verbal response from that person.” That doesn’t mean it cannot happen, just that the reports thus far only support the threat and not any actual monetary charges.

The Snopes article adds, “In all the news reports we found, interviewees merely reported having been asked the common question (“Can you hear me?”) but did not state that they themselves had fallen prey to scammers.”

That being said, we still advice you to use caution when receiving unsolicited phone calls, hanging up is ok. And if you have any scams or crimes to report, contact your local police, the Federal Trade Commission (www.ftc.gov/complaint or 1-877-438-4338), and/or your local Better Business Bureau.

 

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