Q&A: Grassley Law Targets “Crime of the 21st Century”
Q: How will your legislation help curb financial exploitation of older Americans?
A: Given their lifetime of hard work and savings, older Americans are often targeted for financial fraud and exploitation cooked up by wrongdoers who prey upon them for profit. Some victims are exploited by unscrupulous caregivers who take criminal advantage of their good will and others are duped by complete strangers cashing in on those with vulnerabilities, such as dementia or memory loss. The bipartisan bill that I introduced would improve the criminal justice system’s response to elder abuse in several ways: first, it requires that federal investigators and prosecutors receive training on elder abuse; second, it makes restitution of victims mandatory in elder abuse cases; and third, it calls for better collaboration and coordination among the government agencies that serve elder abuse victims.
My Elder Abuse Prevention and Prosecution Act was signed into law by President Trump on October 18. This is good news for seniors and their loved ones. For our fellow Americans who are living out their Golden Years after a lifetime spent in the workforce, raising a family, paying taxes, serving their community and making America a better place for the next generation, this new law makes it harder for criminals to treat them as their golden goose. It will help raise public awareness about elder abuse and financial exploitation and put would-be criminals on notice that federal law enforcement will have new tools to investigate and prosecute predators who prey on older citizens. Visit the Senate Judiciary Committee website for detailed provisions of the new law. As chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, I will keep tabs on implementation of the Elder Abuse Prevention and Prosecution Act so that it works as intended: to secure justice for older citizens harmed by criminal greed.
Q: How widespread and costly are financial crimes against older Americans?
A: Elder financial abuse has climbed with the demographic shift in the United States. In 2010, the U.S. had 40 million people age 65 and older. By 2040, that figure is projected to double. Con artists and unscrupulous caregivers are targeting those with retirement savings, home equity and monthly Social Security cash for illicit gain. The U.S. Justice Department reports that financial exploitation may include unauthorized spending or credit card charges, withdrawals from financial accounts, abrupt changes in wills, forged signatures, and the inexplicable transfer of property or assets, among others. The National Council on Aging has created a top 10 list of financial crimes targeting older consumers. It includes Medicare scams; counterfeit prescription drug sales; funeral and cemetery scams; fraudulent anti-aging products; telemarketing scams; internet fraud; investment schemes; homeowner/reverse mortgage scams; sweepstakes/lottery fraud; and grandparent scams. The Elder Abuse Prevention and Prosecution Act expands the definition of telemarketing fraud to include “telemarketing and email marketing.” That means a defendant convicted of telemarketing or email marketing fraud who targets an individual older than age 55 faces enhanced criminal penalty and mandatory forfeiture. Although new reporting requirements will help us better understand the nature and scope of these crimes, officials say financial exploitation and elder abuse are dramatically underreported. The U.S. Justice Department estimates 1 in 10 senior citizens face a form of elder abuse every year. Financial exploitation and elder abuse has been called the “crime of the 21st century.” Estimates vary widely that elder financial abuse and fraud cost older Americans between $2.9 billion to $36.5 billion per year.
Q: How can families protect loved ones from financial exploitation?
A: Communicate regularly and stay on top of financial statements, bills and investment documents. Be on the lookout for sudden changes in spending habits. Check references for caregivers and other service providers. Avoid unsolicited offers. Register with the National Do-Not-Call List here.
To raise awareness about identity theft, fraud, and scams targeting seniors, the Federal Trade Commission launched a consumer education initiative known as the “Pass it On” campaign. As part of this campaign, the FTC posts materials online about identity theft, government imposter scams, charity fraud, health care scams, lottery scams and others. Go here.
The U.S. Administration on Aging helps connect older citizens and their families with local programs, referrals and resources. Call (800) 677–1116 for more information, Monday-Friday, 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. central time. To report financial consumer fraud, the Department of Justice offers an online road map to help consumers find the correct reporting agency. Go here.