Vulnerable Victim Fraud

Senior Citizen Financial Exploitation – Dealing with a Stubborn Victim

Main Discussion Points:

  • Many elderly victims of Romance and Investment scams are reluctant to cooperate with authorities
  • They continue to send money to scammers despite repeated warnings
  • Victims will lie to loved-ones and continue their destructive behavior
  • One-time interventions do not work with chronic victims
  • Using well-informed Mentors or Coaches are recommended for long-term interventions

Nobody wants to be a fraud victim, right? Most victims are more than willing to cooperate with authorities and are ecstatic when the bad guys are busted. However, in the corrupt world of romance and investment fraud scams, we find that many victims are uncooperative with authorities even as the scams generate millions of dollars in losses to fraud victims.

Romance Scams and Financial Exploitation

The art of cheating people out of their money has metastasized into the world of online romance schemes. The problems is particularly acute with financially secure senior citizens who are also experiencing loneliness and/or cognitive deterioration in their lives. These heartless crimes are not based on chance encounters between willing participants, but instead are cold, calculating schemes designed to rob, cheat, and steal from the victims.

The well-practiced perpetrators have formed sophisticated syndicates to identify victims, conduct reconnaissance on the victims to learn about their background, initiate contact through seemingly innocent approaches, establish trust with the victims, and then move in for the swindle. If the fleecing is successful, the organized groups have formed money laundering networks to efficiently move victims’ money through the banking system to avoid detection. Many victims are molded to become unwitting money launderers by convincing them to deposit and transfer money. This money has often been obtained from other scams. As examples, the unwitting money laundering “mules” are encouraged to deposit checks into their own bank accounts and then send money through Western Union, Money Gram, Green Dot Money Pak cards, and other re-loadable cards..

Crooks create and sell “sucker lists” to other scammers and even re-victimize people by impersonating authority figures to assist them, for a fee of course.

As the already prolific number of victims continues to increase, a wide variety of organizations, financial institutions, law enforcement, prosecutors, and family members are forming alliances to identify scammers, arrest perpetrators, and recover money. The good news is the availability of resources explaining the methodology of criminals, the wide variety of scams, and preventative measures. The bad news is that many victims, particularly senior citizens, refuse to believe that they are being scammed and continue to send money to the thieves despite being warned of the crimes.

The Problem of Stubborn and Compliant Victims

Family members and caretakers are frustrated when the victims continue to send money despite being told they have not won a contest, their grandkids are not in jail in need of bail money, or the online love interest is really a fake. As we see in many cases, loneliness and isolation of the victims become powerful roadblocks to careful thought and reason. Matters can become more complicated with the onset of cognitive deterioration, both medically diagnosed or undiagnosed. The weaknesses of loneliness, isolation, and cognitive deterioration are skillfully targeted and exploited by the worst offenders.

Fortunately, many victims will stop sending money after learning of the real facts, but how do we handle the stubborn and/or compliant victims who continue to send money?

Suggestions for Interacting with Chronic Victims:

First, it must be realized that one-time interventions do not work. The deeply rooted problems behind the stubbornness and compliance do not lend themselves to easy solutions. The plan of action may require (a) gaining knowledge of the unique circumstances of each case; (b) tailoring an approach to each victim; and (c) a time commitment to work with the victims, particularly where a family or social safety net does not exist.

Chronic victims may require a long process to rehabilitate their destructive behavior. Victims may not want a family member involved or may not have family support at all. Victims may be afraid of losing their independence if their families decide to take away their ability to handle finances. Victims may not recognize the frauds as crimes, or have been threatened by the criminals. Victims may find it difficult to accept that fake names and photographs were used. Many victims will lie about their continuing interactions with “friends” or online “lovers”.

So how do we lay the groundwork for successful interventions with the compliant or stubborn victims? Answers may be found by forming a long term strategy for changing the behavior of such people.

An Outline for Successful Interventions:

The following lengthy outline is intended to offer suggestions to increase the chances of changing the destructive behavior:

  1. Do not judge and criticize the victim. It is easy to become frustrated and angry when advice is rejected. Patience in developing a trusting relationship is key.
  2. Gather information and conduct research about the current threat, and share this information with the victim.
  3. Discuss the importance of good cyber hygiene practices, particularly with social media.
  4. Contact law enforcement if a fraud has occurred.
  5. If the victim is elderly, contact Adult Protective Services in your state.
  6. Consider a medical assessment. Deteriorating health issues should be identified and handled by medical professionals.
  7. Consider legal and creditor interventions.
  8. Identify all banking accounts used by the victim and encourage the victims to work with their financial institutions to close accounts affected by a fraud and open new accounts.
  9. Change phone numbers and all passwords. If this is done, expect fraudsters to re-establish contact. Beware of unsolicited home deliveries where thieves will attempt to learn of new contact information.
  10. Encourage family involvement.
  11. Discuss improving money management skills.
  12. Learn about Conservatorship and Guardian procedures. Legal advice may be necessary.
  13. Consider and discuss the risks of re-victimization.
  14. Monitor the mail for solicitations of small donations. Scammers have been known to create sucker lists from small checks sent in response to mailed solicitations.
  15. Discuss and reduce the risks of telephone solicitations from persons requesting donations. Do not give credit card information over the phone.
  16. Create a safety network of trusted persons for the victim to contact. Develop a safety plan between the victim and a trusted person or persons.

A Need for Coaches and Mentors

Changing the behavior of the chronic victim may require finding a trusted mentor, or even a “coach” for the victim to check-in with on a regular basis. A coach may be in a better position to convince the victim to rebuff unwanted phone calls, identify spurious mailed solicitations, and avoid sketchy social media contacts. A well-informed coach or mentor could navigate the victim towards assisting agencies, web sites, availability of restitution of losses, potential tax write-offs, and other recovery funds. Coaches or mentors may be found within the family, outside the family with a trusted friend, or from professional resources such as attorneys, investment advisors, and accountants. Professional services may not be free, but the money spent may help to avoid additional losses.

Resources for Coaches and Mentors

Coaches and mentors can learn about threats through a variety of free online resources. The following list provides valuable information. Other sources of information can also be located and used.

To report fraudulent conduct:

The Unites States Consumer Financial Protection Bureau publishes easy to understand booklets called Managing Someone Else’s Money providing guidance to agents with Power-of-Attorney, court-appointed guardians, trustees, and government benefit fiduciaries. The guides will walk fiduciaries through their duties, show how to watch out for scams, and what to do if someone is a victim. The booklets can be located at

Conclusion: Changing the behavior of uncooperative victims being fleeced can be frustrating to those persons who generously attempt to intervene and stop obvious fraud. But don’t give up hope – it is worth the fight. A long-term intervention plan using a trusted mentor or coach may be necessary. Help is available for those who can find it.

Vulnerable Victim Fraud

Addressing Elder Abuse and Financial Exploitation Matters: The 2017 Elder Abuse Prevention and Prosecution Act

New Information for the fight against Elder Financial Exploitation Matters

The United States Congress provides victims, families, and Elder Abuse practitioners with powerful new weapons in the fight against Senior Citizen Financial Exploitation cases with the passage of Public Law 115-70-Oct. 18, 2017 – The Elder Abuse Prevention and Prosecution Act. This act is designed to prevent elder abuse and exploitation and improve the justice system’s response to victims in elder abuse and exploitation cases.

The Unites States Senate made the following findings to support this new law:

  • The vast majority of cases of abuse neglect, and exploitation of older adults in the United States go unidentified and unreported.
  • Not less than $2,900,000,000 is taken from older adults each year due to financial abuse and exploitation.
  • Elder abuse, neglect, and exploitation have no boundaries and cross all racial, social, class, gender, and geographic lines.
  • Older adults who are abuse are 3 times more likely to die earlier than older adults of the same age who are not abused.
  • Up to half of all older adults with dementia will experience abuse.

The act is designed to enhance support for Federal cases involving Elder Justice, improve data collection and Federal coordination with Local and State authorities, establish best practices for Local, State, and Federal data collection, and enhance victim assistance to elder abuse survivors. Elder abuse is includes “abuse, neglect, and exploitation of an elder (age 60 or older).

Under this Act, the Attorney General of the United States will designate in each Federal judicial district at least one Assistant United States Attorney to serve as the Elder Justice Coordinator for the district. There are 94 Federal judicial districts, including at least one district in each state, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

The United States Attorney General and the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) implement regular and comprehensive training to FBI Agents for the investigation and prosecution of such crimes and the enforcement of laws related to elder abuse. Training materials will be extended for other law enforcement officers, prosecutors, judges, emergency responders, individuals working in victim services, adult protective services, social services, and public safety, medical personnel, mental health personnel, financial services personnel, and any other individuals whose work may bring them in contact with elder abuse cases. The training materials will cover conducting investigations in elder abuse cases, address evidentiary and other legal issues, and the interaction with victims and witnesses, including administrative, civil, and criminal judicial proceedings.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) will appoint an Elder Justice Coordinator to coordinate and support the enforcement and consumer education efforts and policy activities. The Coordinator will serve as a central point of contact for individuals, units of local government, States, and other Federal agencies on matters relating to the enforcement and consumer education efforts of the FTC.

The Attorney General will collect from Federal law enforcement agencies, other agencies as appropriate, and Federal prosecutor’s offices statistical data related to elder abuse cases, including cases or investigations where one or more victims were elders, or the investigation involved a financial scheme or scam that was either targeted directly toward or largely affected elders, and publish the information on the Department of Justice website.

The Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) will provide the Attorney General statistical data related to elder abuse cases investigated by the States’ adult protective services organizations.

The Act amends Section 113A of Title 18, United States Code, to include Email marketing. In this chapter, the term ‘telemarketing or email marketing’ means: A Plan, program, promotion, or campaign that is conducted to induce

  1. Purchases of goods or services;
  2. Participation in a contest or sweepstakes;
  3. A charitable contribution, donation, or gift of money or any other thing of value;
  4. Investment for financial profit;
  5. Participation in a business opportunity;
  6. Commitment to a loan; or
  7. Participation in a fraudulent medical study, research study, or pilot study –
  • By use of one or more interstate telephone calls, emails, text messages, or electronic instant messages initiated either by a person who is conducting the plan, program, promotion, or campaign or by a prospective purchaser or contest or sweepstakes participant or charitable contributor, donor, or investor.

Mandatory Forfeiture of criminal proceeds will be imposed by a sentencing court. If convicted, the defendant will forfeit any property, real or personal, constituting or traceable to gross proceeds obtained from such offense, and any equipment, software, or other technology used or intended to be used to commit or to facilitate the commission of such offense.

For additional information to find Financial Services Resources for Elder Fraud Cases, I would recommend researching:

Vulnerable Victim Fraud

Wait, Whadayamean Grandma is Laundering Money?

Can this really happen? The answer is yes and here’s how it works. Financial institutions and investigators are seeing more situations where victims of fraud schemes are recruited to deposit checks from other fraud victims and then forward money to the criminal actors. In a sense, the first victim is becoming an unwitting money launderer. This is particularly true in cases where Senior Citizens are victimized.

One of the most distressing crime trends in current times is the increasing losses due to financial abuse of Senior Citizens and other vulnerable victims. Current population demographics indicate that the general population in the United States is getting older. Many Seniors possess significant assets, others struggle with poverty, and many are somewhere in the middle. The Baby Boom generation is now entering retirement years after building nest eggs of savings and retirement accounts.

To be sure, criminal actors are targeting the wealth created by the aging population. The estimated value of savings and retirement accounts in the United States approaches $27 Trillion. These vast sums have attracted highly sophisticated organized criminal groups from inside the United States and foreign countries. These organized crime groups are responsible for well-known identity theft, lottery, romance, work at home, grandparent, tax payment, fraudulent IRS returns, business email compromise (BEC) scams. Ponzi schemes and other fraudulent investment schemes also cause large losses to thousands of victims.

Successful criminal groups need to move and hide enormous sums of stolen money. To answer the challenge, complex money laundering networks are formed for the placement of money into the banking system, the layering of the proceeds through multiple accounts, and reintegrating money back into the financial system. They can then use the “clean” money to purchase assets, pay co-conspirators, or finance other fraud schemes.

Many victims are directed to send money to overseas locations. However, since many victims are reluctant to send money overseas, criminal organizations have formed networks of money laundering “mules” to receive the initial fraud dollars, deposit the dollars in U.S. based banks, transfer the money into other accounts, and then forward the money to the criminals. Many of the money laundering mules are willing participants in the schemes and are compensated from the fraud dollars. It is also now known that criminals are adept at convincing victims to become unwitting money laundering mules and instruct the victims to use their own bank accounts to deposit and transfer stolen proceeds, or to deposit fraudulent checks and forward the proceeds. These unwitting money laundering mules are found in romance scams, work at home scams, and other internet based scams.

Of course, most fraud victims do not set out to become money laundering mules. However, many feel trapped by the circumstances and will follow corrupt instructions to open new bank accounts, deposit checks from other persons, and forward money to others using money orders, cashiers checks, or wires. Many victims are encouraged to use variations of their actual names like nick names, middle names, or maiden names to purchase money orders or send wires. The fraudsters know that many of the victims are reluctant to lie about their personal names but may be convinced that using a variation of their actual name is not really lying. The criminals know that varying names on transactions make the tracing process more difficult for investigating officials. Other victims may be convinced to use criminal proceeds to purchase gift cards and other stored-value cards and forward the serial numbers to the perpetrators. The victims are often instructed to keep quiet about sending the money because other people may want to interfere or restrict their freedom.
Protecting Vulnerable Victims
No one organization or government can prevent swindlers from attacking victims. Recognizing the early warning signs of fraud schemes is a key factor in protecting people from determined criminals. Currently, a wide variety of government and private organizations offer resources to describe current fraud schemes and recommended protective measures. Reading about the schemes is not enough. Some of our loved ones will appreciate efforts to protect them and some will resist interference. These crimes are seriously underreported because many victims feel ashamed about being defrauded. They often want to keep it quiet fearing that their families will want to take over their lives and finances. If the perpetrator(s) are other family members, the discord within the family can be very contentious.  Regardless of the individual circumstances of each case, documenting the victim’s loss of money and other wealth is necessary to tell the story.
I will be preparing additional blogs and podcasts to continue the discussions about protecting vulnerable victims from determined fraudsters.