contribution by Alan L. Marx
Seniors have a wide variety of useful information available on the internet. One of the best places to begin is the U. S. Government’s webpage for seniors, www.USA.gov. It covers far too many topics to discuss in a single article, but here is a small sample of the topics you will find there:
- Abuse of the Elderly
- Advocates for Residents of Nursing Homes, by State
- Consumer Action Handbook
- Consumer Protection Offices
- Elder Rights Protection
- Financial Crimes Against the Elderly
- How to File a Nursing Home Complaint
- Long Term Care Ombudsman Program – Administration on Aging
- Social Security – Protect Your Social Security Number
Every one of the topics listed and more open to a more detailed link. Today let’s follow just one path, Financial Crimes Against the Elderly. Most consumer fraud against the elderly is treated as a civil matter, but the most serious violations can lead to criminal cases. The difference is that in a civil case the violator can be ordered to cease the fraudulent conduct, can face a civil penalty, and can be ordered to make restitution. However, in a criminal case the guilty person can go to jail, as well as facing fines. Corporations also can be found guilty of criminal violations. While a corporation obviously cannot be sent to jail, it can be fined, and its owners or employees can be jailed if the evidence supports a guilty verdict. The FBI, the Offices of the U. S. Attorneys, the States Attorneys in Tennessee, and local police forces, such as the Nashville Metro police, have resources dedicated to investigating and when the evidence supports a prosecution, bringing and trying criminal fraud cases.
The link from USA.gov takes you to a description of COPS, the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services in the U. S. Department of Justice that works with, shares information with, and makes grants to state, local, territorial, and tribal law enforcement agencies to advance the practice of community policing. In describing its work on financial crimes against the elderly, the COPS webpage begins with a discussion of how difficult it is to get reliable measurements of how often seniors are the victims of these crimes, because it is clear that fraud against seniors is dramatically underreported. It cites a 1998 estimate by the National Center on Elder Abuse that nearly one third of all elder abuse cases involved financial exploitation and a report by the U. S. Senate Special Committee on Aging in 2000 that $40 billion in losses were related just to telemarketing fraud.
The COPS Office works with and supports the National Sheriffs Association in the national Triad program, which puts law enforcement and senior citizens together to reduce crime and the fear of crime. COPS provides funding to expand and enhance the Triad model nationwide, increasing the number of communities that participate and the number of training opportunities and scope of national support programs. As an example of its work, the COPS Office provided major funding for the Iowa Elderly Fraud Prevention Program to increase the resources for prosecution of criminals who victimize senior citizens.
The COPS Office has also worked to ensure that the best knowledge on addressing the problem of crimes against seniors is available to the field. In 2004, the COPS Office produced a practitioner oriented guide on Financial Crimes Against the Elderly and co-hosted with the National Sheriff’s Association a series of national conference calls with law enforcement officers, prosecutors, business leaders, and community groups on financial abuse of the elderly. COPS has resources, such as Guides & Reports, Training & Technical Assistance, and Links to Other Resources, available for improving the protection of seniors.
On its web page the COPS Office brings together materials from many other organizations throughout the world that discuss crimes against the elderly. For example, Older People and Consumer Fraud is a study by the Australian Institute of Criminology with data from a survey of older persons’ criminal victimization, focusing on the risk to older people of being victimized by consumer fraud when someone is selling or delivering services. The countries where seniors live may differ, but the problem they face is often the same – abuses in commercial transactions such as telemarketing, Internet sales, door-to-door sales, mail orders, home repairs and home construction, buying and servicing vehicles, and financial transactions
The COPS Office web page also refers to Telemarketing Fraud and Older Americans: An AARP Survey that was based on interviews with 745 telemarketing fraud victims who were 50 years of age and older. AARP found that older victims were more frequently victimized by telemarketing fraud than younger people.
Finally, the COPS Office web page refers to Victimization of Persons by Fraud, an article from the National Institute of Justice that presents the results of a survey of people victimized by personal fraud, which was defined as the deliberate intent to deceive with promises of goods, services, or other financial benefits that in fact do not exist or were never intended to be provided. This article contains data from a national telephone survey of 1,246 people aged 18 and older. While no information was provided on the web page about the number of seniors who were interviewed, it is a safe assumption that seniors made up a significant percentage of the victims.
Seniors have many agencies and organizations that are trying to assist them in avoiding larcenous and predatory practices. However, all the information that those helpers can provide is of little use if seniors are not aware of it or are unable to use it. As people get older, it is more of an effort for them to try to protect themselves, but to avoid being a victim it is important that they make that effort or have help from friends and family to do so.