Elder Fraud: Protecting Older Americans from Financial Exploitation

Elder Fraud
Elder Fraud

U.S. Attorney John H. Horn Delivers Testimony Before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee on “Protecting Older Americans from Financial Exploitation”

Introduction

Chairman Grassley, Ranking Member Blumenthal, and distinguished members of the Committee, thank you for the opportunity to discuss the Department of Justice’s efforts aimed at combatting elder financial exploitation.  Protecting our nation’s seniors from and abuse is one of the department’s highest priorities and the department is actively engaged on this issue on multiple fronts.

Seniors have many reasons to celebrate, including that they are more likely to have nest eggs, own their homes and have excellent credit.  Unfortunately, these very characteristics make them attractive targets for scammers and con artists.  While we are still learning about the risk factors that may contribute to financial exploitation, there is ample research on the consequences.  Research has shown, for example, that seniors who have been financially exploited experience a loss of independence, decreased health and psychological distress, all of which culminate in a diminished quality of life.

During my 14 years with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia, I have witnessed firsthand the crippling effect that financial fraud has on its victims.  Likewise, as the first lead attorney of the David G. Wilhelm Organized Crime-Drug Enforcement Strike Force in Atlanta, I prosecuted international drug cartels and witnessed the importance of coordinating federal, state and local efforts, especially when combatting international schemes.  Since January 2015, I have led the office as the U.S. Attorney.  I am proud to say that my district has a long history of actively working to protect seniors and for that reason was selected as the site of one of the 10 Elder Justice Task Forces launched by the department in February of this year.

More recently, I was named the Chair of the newly created Attorney General’s Advisory Committee’s Elder Justice Working Group.  One of the main purposes of this working group, which is comprised of U.S. Attorneys from across the country, will be to improve our information sharing on financial targeting the elderly and to advise the Attorney General on how we can continue to enhance our many ongoing efforts.  Today, I would like to take a few moments to describe some of those ongoing efforts and the outstanding work the men and women of the department and their law enforcement partners are doing in this area.

Department-Wide Efforts

The department is fully engaged on the issue of elder financial exploitation and elder abuse more broadly.  The department is actively prosecuting a wide array of large international and domestic schemes targeting the elderly, as well as smaller cases against individuals who have breached their fiduciary duty to exploit seniors.  The department has actively pursued and continues to actively pursue nursing homes under the False Claims Act for billing the Medicare and Medicaid Programs while providing grossly substandard care to their residents.  Equally importantly, the department is enhancing the capacity of state and local prosecutors, other law enforcement agencies and civil legal aid programs to also identify, combat and prosecute elder abuse, neglect and financial exploitation.

Within the department, numerous components play a role in combatting elder financial exploitation.  As an example of how broadly the department is approaching the problem of elder financial exploitation, a meeting last year on this topic included representatives from across the department, including:

  • the department’s senior leadership offices;
  • the Elder Justice Initiative, Section, and Consumer Protection Branch (which has both civil and criminal jurisdiction), within the Civil Division;
  • the Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering, Computer Crime and Intellectual Property, Fraud and Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Sections, within the Criminal Division;
  • the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys;
  • the Office of Justice Programs, including the Office for Victims of Crime;
  • the Office on Violence Against Women; and
  • the Office for Access to Justice.

Further, we have a long history of engaging with our interagency colleagues at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC); Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI); U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations (ICE-HSI); the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA); Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN); U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS); U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC); the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Administration on Aging, within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).  Together, we work to investigate and prosecute mass-marketing schemes and engage on a range of other elder justice legal and policy issues.

The department also actively works with other federal agencies through the Elder Justice Coordinating Council (EJCC).  Addressing elder financial exploitation has been one of the highest priority areas of the EJCC and there are many ongoing interagency efforts to improve information sharing and coordinating proactive efforts.  Given the importance of this issue, the department worked closely with other federal agencies to highlight it at the Elder Justice Forum held at the White House on June 16, 2015, as well as at the decennial White House Conference on Aging, held on July 13, 2015.  (See http://archive.whitehouseconferenceonaging. gov)

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