Older Americans Prime Targets of Fraud During Pandemic: DOJ

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Photo by Chris Marchant via Flickr

Older Americans have been disproportionately targeted by fraudsters during the pandemic,  according to the latest annual report from the Department of Justice (DOJ).

Since July 2020, the department has brought over 220 criminal and civil enforcement actions in nearly 20 different types of fraud cases that targeted the elderly, the report said.

Most of the cases involved scams and phishing.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has heightened the risk for abuse directed towards seniors who are socially isolated and vulnerable to exploitation,” said Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta.

“As this Annual Report demonstrates, the department has marshalled a wide array of tools – enforcement actions, research, public education and outreach, training and victim services – to combat elder abuse and to ensure that our seniors have the support and protections that they deserve.”

The department was able to take action against 2,300 “money mules” — individuals who assist fraudsters by receiving money from fraud victims and forwarding it to larger organizers ―far surpassing last year’s number of 600.

Vulnerable Elders

Experts speculate that the elderly were especially vulnerable because they spent more time on the internet and over the phone to stay in touch with family during the lockdowns and other measures imposed during the pandemic.

The Department of Justice report outlines countless cases of fake popup messages that convince victims to think that their computers are infected with malware, and that by calling a number listed and paying a fee, their computer would be saved.

Other popular scams have been from telemarketers who falsely claim someone’s identity has been stolen, or that they need to send money through gift cards to get out of legal trouble.

The perpetrators that preyed on the volatility brought on by the pandemic have gone after individual’s driver license information, making a victim falsely believe their license has expired.

Other pandemic scams surround unemployment fraud that has sucked anywhere from $87 million to $400 billion in unemployment relief.

See Also: Watch Your Driver’s License: Cyberscammers Exploit COVID-19

Crime Fighting and Victim Support

Over the past year, the Justice Department has invested heavily in training, tools, and complaint centers to ensure that professionals are equipped to hold offenders accountable — while also ensuring that victims of fraud cases are able to get the help and services they need.

The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) Recovery Asset Team was able to successfully freeze nearly$280 million from financial abuse cases — leading to a 72 percent success rate of freezing the money before it was wired and lost to the victims.

The Department of Justice has also developed first-of-its-kind online elder abuse training for law enforcement that allows them to receive Peace Officer Standards and training credits in 36 states, the report details.

Lastly, the department’s Office for Victims of Crime awarded Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) grants to states totaling more than $1.6 billion, with $86 million of that allocated for programs serving older crime victims. This will help to make sure that someone’s life isn’t ruined following being taken advantage of in a fraud case, the report outlines.

“While technology has brought the world together in many ways, it has also opened the door to a myriad of fraud schemes that prey upon older adults,” concluded Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco, as quoted by the report.

“The department will not hesitate to use all the tools at its disposal to identify and disrupt such schemes, wherever they may originate or occur.”

The full Department of Justice report can be accessed here. 

Additional Reading: Phone Scammers Use ‘Mind-Control Tactics’ to Deceive Victims

Andrea Cipriano is a TCR staff writer

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