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:
- 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.
- Gather information and conduct research about the current threat, and share this information with the victim.
- Discuss the importance of good cyber hygiene practices, particularly with social media.
- Contact law enforcement if a fraud has occurred.
- If the victim is elderly, contact Adult Protective Services in your state.
- Consider a medical assessment. Deteriorating health issues should be identified and handled by medical professionals.
- Consider legal and creditor interventions.
- 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.
- 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.
- Encourage family involvement.
- Discuss improving money management skills.
- Learn about Conservatorship and Guardian procedures. Legal advice may be necessary.
- Consider and discuss the risks of re-victimization.
- 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.
- Discuss and reduce the risks of telephone solicitations from persons requesting donations. Do not give credit card information over the phone.
- 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.
- www.justice.gov/elderjustice (U.S. Department of Justice Elder Justice Initiative)
- www.donotcall.gov (National Do Not Call Registry)
- www.fraud.org (National Fraud Information Center)
- www.onguardonline.gov (Federal Trade Commission consumer information)
- www.bbb.org (Better Business Bureau)
- www.trustedsource.org (Customer URL Tracking System by McAfee)
- www.travel.state.gov (U.S. Department of State – Bureau of Consular Affairs)
- www.ncpc.org (National Crime Prevention Council)
- www.staysafeonline.org (National Cyber Security Alliance)
To report fraudulent conduct:
- www.ftc.gov (Federal Trade Commission)
- www.complaintassistant.gov (For FTC Consumer Sentinel web assistance)
- www.IC3.gov (for Internet crimes)
- www.consumer.gov/idtheft (For Identity Theft)
- www.va.gov/oig (for fraud targeting Veterans)
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 www.consumerfinance.gov/managing-someone-elses-money
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.