Serving Victims of Financial Fraud and Fraud Prevention
Merry O'Brien, Paula Pierce  -  2016/7/20
http://ovc.ncjrs.gov/ovcproviderforum
 
 
Is there anything to recommend a fraud victim to do to obtain justice if law enforcement is reluctant to investigate a case?
 
1.  Merry O'Brien
 (8) Finally, if you notice that victims in your area are having trouble getting law enforcement to take their reports, please send them this memo: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/sites/default/files/articles/pdf/pdf-0088-ftc-memo-law-enforcement.pdf and contact your local department to offer to do a segment on financial crime within their in-service or academy, or even make a short roll-call video for them. In most cases, your department will be happy to receive free training and partner with their local victim service agency for referrals. If you need tips on this, the Colorado Bureau of Investigation’s Identity Theft Hotline are experts, having developed many such trainings. Send them an email: CBI.StopIDTheft (at) state (dot) co (dot) us.
 
2.  Merry O'Brien
 (7) So all law enforcement departments should order free copies of “Taking Charge: What To Do If Your Identity Is Stolen” booklets – which focus on recovery (rather than just prevention) and have them available in their brochure area and for officers to give all victims who come in to make a report. These can be ordered in bulk here: https://bulkorder.ftc.gov/publications?fŷb0ŷd=field_campaignsŵA1587.
 
3.  Merry O'Brien
 (6) Another response that is inappropriate is to give the victim prevention tips/brochures directly after the crime (or ONLY give them this and no actual recovery help). This sends the message that “if you’d been smarter, this wouldn’t have happened.” The reality is – most of us will be victimized by financial crime in our lifetimes. Yes, we should all take prevention seriously and keep up with the latest techniques. However, when a victim is in the heart of the recovery process, wait a bit to toss prevention tips in their direction! When you do, explain to them that you are helping them learn to avoid re-victimization in the future.
 
4.  Merry O'Brien
 (5) Also, law enforcement officers need to be trained to provide the appropriate response to victims so that their brief interaction during the report taking isn’t re-traumatizing. Mainly, victims shouldn’t be told that “The bank is the victim. You aren’t the victim.” This is unfortunately a common refrain, and one that is meant to make the victim feel better. Of course it does not, despite good intentions.
 
5.  Merry O'Brien
 (4) Of upmost importance, officers need to be trained to understand that they MUST – by law - take each and every report of identity theft and fraud, and provide the opportunity for the victim to receive that report – because the report enables the victim to exercise their rights and access certain remedies under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). To help your local law enforcement agency understand their obligations to victims, please refer to this map of local laws: http://identitytheftnetwork.org/resource-map.
 
6.  Merry O'Brien
 (3) This isn’t to say we should all give up and send our money straight to that Nigerian prince! Instead – as victim advocates, law enforcement officers, and other allied professionals – we need to realize that a compassionate response to victims includes helping to set realistic expectations while doing everything in our power to assist in recovery and justice.
 
7.  Merry O'Brien
 (2) For example, at a recent training we gave in Baltimore, an attendee spoke about taking the report of a 90 year old victim of the Jamaican Lottery Scam who received 20 threatening international phone calls at her house just in the hour that he was there taking the report! He finally picked up the phone himself and yelled at the caller, but to no avail. He felt frustrated in his inability to help this senior, who had already lost over $50,000 by the point when she sought assistance, would likely not see a dime back, and who felt threatened into giving more money to the criminals.
 
8.  Merry O'Brien
 (1) After training hundreds of law enforcement officers across many departments, I have come to the conclusion that the majority of officers do in fact WANT to help the victims of these crimes. However, their hands can sometimes be tied for several reasons including jurisdictional limits (international fraud), gaps in laws (cyber assumption and stalking), and lack of resources needed within a local department’s financial crimes unit (identity theft).
 
9.  Paula
 It depends on a number of factors. Most of the time, there’s not much a victim can do. Exceptions are (1) if the victim knows the identity of the perp., (2) if the victim is elderly or a minor, (3) if a large amount of money ($10,000+) or a very large number of victims are involved. Most cases involve a victim who doesn’t know who defrauded her. There are too many scammers out there for law enforcement to be able to investigate every case. If the victim knows the identity of the scammer, then victim can explore feasibility of a civil lawsuit.
 
 
What are the rates for financial fraud among older adults, and what should people who work with this population know about protecting their clients?
 
1.  Merry O'Brien
 Gauging the extent of the problem is tough due to under-reporting, but those of us in this field KNOW this is a huge and growing problem in our country today. NY's "Under the Radar" report found that for every reported financial abuse case, 44 cases are not reported. Locally, we did a survey and 19% of seniors admitted to being current victims of financial crime. This means that over 13,000 seniors in my community are suffering in this way, and yet our local Adult Protective Services only receives 145 reports of financial exploitation each year and our local police's financial unit receives about 300 reports from older victims. So this means over 12,000 are suffering in silence. Based on the national prevalence rates, it is safe to assume your community is experiencing the same.
 
2.  Merry O'Brien
 People who work with this population need to understand why this crime is underreported. Shame, family dynamics, ageist responses from helpers like us, fear of loss of independence are all a few of the reasons. By understanding a senior's reticence to tell helpers like us about the financial fraud, we can work as a community and within our agencies to be better responders and to encourage more victims to seek help.
 
3.  Merry O'Brien
 MetLife found that American seniors lose more than $2.6 billion per year to financial crime: https://www.metlife.com/assets/cao/mmi/publications/studies/mmi-study-broken-trust-elders-family-finances.pdf. Even more troubling, though is that financial crimes against seniors are often co-occurring with other forms of abuse and criminal neglect. For those of us in the field, it is rare for us to see one type without another. I often tell bankers, hair dressers, etc. that if they are suspecting financial shenanigans, to take it seriously because they actually could be saving a senior's life by making a report to their local Adult Protective Services (APS) office: http://www.napsa-now.org/get-help/help-in-your-area/.
 
4.  Paula
 PART 2 - Here are some examples: I teach older consumers they don't need to be polite to criminals. It's okay to hang up! I also recommend teaching them to look first at who started the conversation. If the other person did, be cautious. Treat it like a scam. Don't trust - verify instead. Example: If I called my bank, they need to know my account number to look it up. I should give the number. If my bank calls me, I need to hang up the phone, call the number on my bank statement, and ask if they are trying to reach me.
 
5.  Paula
 PART 1 - I would have to look up the actual statistics, but numbers of victims are higher among older adults (60+) as well as young adults (under 25). I think prevention eduction is key. Researcher Natalie Denman from Iowa has done interesting research showing how physical changes in our brains actually make us more vulnerable to victimization as we age because we lose some ability to make snap decisions. We have to give our elderly consumers tools to slow down & verify so they can be less vulnerable.
 
 
What more should be done by local organizations to help victims and educate the general public about this topic?
 
1.  Merry O'Brien
 (4) We became determined to tackle this problem, and launched an identity theft training and service initiative last year. We are now training our community (fellow victim service, legal, prosecution, law enforcement) and providing outreach to the public (senior centers, events, etc.) You can do the same – see here for details: http://www.nvrdc.org/news-letter/2016/1/27/nvrdc-supports-victims-of-identity-theft.
 
2.  Merry O'Brien
 (3) In short, we all need to see this problem as our problem! Otherwise, no one is assisting and victims of financial crimes are falling through the cracks. At Network for Victim Recovery of DC, our advocates and attorneys began to collect data a few years ago on the prevalence of polyvictimization wherein a victim of sexual assault or other violent crime also had their personal information compromised or stolen during the commission of the violent crime and found that a fourth of victims experienced this!
 
3.  Merry O'Brien
 (2) Additionally, legal assistance organizations (legal aid societies, etc.) can and should also take responsibility for training their staff to assist. Senior service organizations also have a role – especially because the population they serve has accumulated wealth over a lifetime, experience cognitive impairments at a higher rate than younger folks, and have more interactions with medical and service providers who have access to their personal identifying information (PII).
 
4.  Merry O'Brien
 (1) I truly believe that all victim service organizations – including domestic violence and sexual assault organizations – have a role to play in assisting victims of financial crimes and providing outreach to their communities. If you are in a domestic violence organization, you might be interested in learning more about the connections between financial crime and DV, I’d recommend this training: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IdGTKfAHvYc.
 
 
So many of these scams originate in other countries, and victims' money is sent to these countries. Once outside of the US, what are the options to help the victims recover their lost funds and gain a sense of justice?
 
1.  Merry O'Brien
 (6) Finally, victims of any type of crime follow different healing paths, and for some victims – getting involved in policy work or outreach can be therapeutic. In these cases, it can help a victim to be put in touch with the media to tell their story. I also just learned of a “Circle of Friends” approach to fraud prevention from Jerry Gunville: gunvijd@dshs.wa.gov that sounds replicable and perhaps useful to a victim’s sense of healing and being helpful to others. Finally, the FTC has a neat “Pass it On” campaign that might be a small way a victim could get involved in helping others: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/features/feature-0030-pass-it-on.
 
2.  Merry O'Brien
 (5) I say halting the crime in progress because this is really our best hope in these cases – once funds have been transferred, its awfully tough to recover them. So the best thing we can do is ensure the Postal Inspectors, money transfer companies, and financial industry are all given the tools, training, and ability to intervene to shut down the drain of funds, and in some cases – if they can act fast – recover some of the money before the transaction is complete.
 
3.  Merry O'Brien
 (4) Banks, credit unions, and financial advisors are also improving their internal polices more and more each year, as well as experiencing the benefits of new legislation that aims to protect them from liability when they report suspected financial fraud. Again, we all have a role in pushing for this policy – both through reaching out and training our local financial industry and through advocating for better reporting laws that can help halt the crime in progress.
 
4.  Paula
 I know of none that are cost effective. These scams primarily involve wire transfers, and consumers have no legal protections regarding wire transfers once the transfer has been initiated by the bank – even when the money stays in the US. That said, consumers should report the fraud to the FTC & IC3. There has been at least one case where US & Romanian authorities cooperated & are prosecuting a scam ring. The case began in 2010. Victims were able to request restitution, but I believe victims have yet to see anything for their efforts. I think the case is still on appeal.
 
5.  Merry O'Brien
 (3) There have also been some gains made in working with and training the legitimate companies (Western Union, MoneyGram, etc.) which facilitate the transfer of money to the criminals. These companies slowly improve their policies, as folks in the victim assistance and law enforcement world make them aware of how the criminals are using their services to drain victims’ bank accounts.
 
6.  Merry O'Brien
 (2) There are a few efforts underway in recent years to give us hope. For example, in my area (DC/MD/VA region), Jamaican Lotto Scams have been a HUGE problem, especially for seniors. The FTC reports that the majority of these phone scams target those 70+ years old. Project JOLT (Jamaican Operations Linked to Telemarketing), which is a joint effort of the Postal Inspectors, Homeland Security, Jamaican officials, and others, has had some major wins in reducing the problem: https://www.ice.gov/news/releases/catch-ice-hsi-special-agents-cnbcs-american-greed. They have seized over a million in assets.
 
7.  Merry O'Brien
 (1) This is the toughest question of the day so far! Indeed, international scams are so prevalent and unfortunately high-gain + low-risk for the perpetrators, some of whom are proudly using the money to fund terrorism and other nasty deeds. It is enough to infuriate any of us involved in assisting the victims or attempting to shut down the criminals.
 
 
What recommendations do you have for finding resources or trained advocates when the victim is an area without many services or advocates available, such as a very rural community?
 
1.  Paula
 Another avenue, particularly with rural seniors, is SALT - Seniors & Law Enforcement Together. Through SALT, you can use mobile seniors & law enforcement to assist rural seniors who don't have internet access or transportation. We have done trainings with rural SALT groups on responding to ID theft & financial fraud specific to seniors.
 
2.  Merry O'Brien
 Locally, I'd challenge victim assistance (community based DV, SA, general), senior services, law enforcement victim assistance units, and legal clinics all to rise to the challenge and incorporate assistance to financial crime victims into their existing/regular service plans. Not every community needs to have a financial fraud specialist type center. Rather, we need to work together (coalitions, training groups, referral mechanisms) to all do our part.
 
3.  Merry O'Brien
 I second Paula's suggestion! The Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC), working with support from the Office for Victims of Crime, has developed an online chat function that can be used by anyone in the nation. It is a good start for rural folks. Go here and look for the blue "chat now" bar at the bottom of the page: http://www.idtheftcenter.org.
 
4.  Paula
 One way is to leverage technology. Information is available online through government agencies & legal aid. Example: in Texas, www.texaslawhelp.org has resources on financial fraud & ID theft & allows victims to chat with a lawyer online. Several states have similar programs. Starting an online chat service with volunteer lawyers or victim advocates is a cost effective way to reach victims who have internet access but who don’t have transportation or a victim advocate in their community. Even when the person has no internet access, many court houses and public libraries are offering free computer and internet access. If they have no internet access & no transportation, we need to find ways to get help to come to them.
 
 
In military communities, fraud and identity theft seem to be particularly pervasive, perhaps due to the transient nature of the community members. Do you have any recommendations for fraud/identity theft recovery for this unique population?
 
1.  Paula
 Part 2 - One last bit of advice for active military being deployed: Be careful of giving general power of attorney to someone. One of the saddest cases I ever saw was a serviceman who gave a general durable power of attorney to his trusted neighbor to take care of his house while he was deployed. She used the POA to open accounts in his name which her family used for their personal gain. The lesson here is: be careful who you trust & don't sign a full POA for someone, cross out anything that isn't necessary.
 
2.  Merry O'Brien
 (6) Unfortunately, the time it takes to recover from these crimes is often a luxury military members simply don’t have due to the nature of the work and often being far from home. We in the victim assistance community need to step up to the plate and train ourselves and each other to be able to assist. We also can reach out to our local military bases within our communities and offer to train staff, as my organization has done. We can each do our part locally!
 
3.  Merry O'Brien
 (5) If the member wants to be particularly cautious, or if they have been targeted before, they may wish to go a step further and just place a credit freeze on their accounts. Here’s a good, free brochure that victim service agencies can have on hand for military victims: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/pdf-0016-military-identity-theft.pdf.
 
4.  Merry O'Brien
 (4) The single most important thing individuals can do to prevent issues is to place an “active duty alert” on their credit files when they are away on deployment. It isn’t going to stop all issue (such as ongoing fraud on current accounts), but it can help prevent someone from fraudulently opening new accounts in their name. Here’s a page on how to do this from the FTC: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0273-active-duty-alerts.
 
5.  Merry O'Brien
 (3) I see three main factors at work here: 1) as you noted the transient nature of the community is definitely a contributing factor, as is 2) the ease of access to military member’s information (remember that, until a few years ago, SSNs were printed on dog tags, backpacks which members carried through airports, etc.) and 3) the fact that deployments prevent individuals from maintaining regular checks of their credit reports and bank statements.
 
6.  Merry O'Brien
 (2) Specifically, the Army has consistently held the distinction of being the branch which has made the most reports in recent years. Some might assume identity theft and fraudsters would target folks with more money – but this is not necessarily the case in the civilian OR military worlds. In fact, military personnel who receive low to middle pay grades are hit hardest.
 
7.  Merry O'Brien
 (1) You are right – unfortunately military members and their families are at an increased risk for identity theft and fraud for a number of reasons. The Federal Trade Commission’s Consumer Sentinel reports that military members experience double the rates of identity theft than the civilian population. You can read the whole report here: https://www.ftc.gov/system/files/documents/reports/consumer-sentinel-network-data-book-january-december-2015/160229csn-2015databook.pdf. Use a “Control + F” search for the keyword “military” to see these sections within the report.
 
8.  Paula
 Sadly, military members who are deployed are vulnerable to ID theft. The FTC has a terrific resource for military members: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/pdf-0016-military-identity-theft.pdf Also, before deployment, military personnel can put an active duty alert on their credit reports - just like a fraud alert - to minimize the threat of ID theft. When a member of military finds they are a victim, the JAG (military law service) has trained some victim advocates to help.
 
 
What can a minor and/or dependent child do to protect their credit from a financially irresponsible and abusive parent? Example: College aged child checks credit for first time, finds that mother has opened cards in her name and destroyed her credit score. What preventative measures can the 5 younger children take to protect themselves?
 
1.  Paula
 Actually, the Fair Credit Reporting Act tells victims to attach an Identity Theft Report (ITR) to their letters to creditors and credit bureaus. An ITR is either a really detailed police report (rare) or an FTC complaint signed & notarized by victim with copy of police report or proof of making police report attached. If the procedure is followed & creditor doesn't cooperate, creditor is violating a federal law. Some states have similar protections. If all else fails, victims can go to civil court and ask for a declaratory judgment saying they are a victim of IDT & ordering creditor to remove the accounts. Texas has a specific procedure for this in Ch. 521 of TX Bus & Comm Code. But all states have declaratory judgment statutes.
 
2.  Paula
 Re: uncooperative creditors. I've been successful in getting parents off those accounts by sending a copy of the child's passport or birth certificate to the creditors along with the other documentation required by FCRA and adding two things to the standard FCRA letter: 1) that minors are not legally able to make binding contract, and 2) that adding the parents to the account without parents' signatures or consent does not bind the parents and also violates consumer protection laws. It bears repeating that creditors view the victims as enemies because successful victims cause the creditor to lose money.
 
3.  James Walton
 Victims rights diminish because creditors and police departments "question" whether or not there is validity to you filing/submitting police reports. The credit bureau's don't change your report because of what is written on a police report. Nor should they have to. All parties do their own internal investigation and decide what will and will not be removed from your credit report regardless of whether or not the reported information is valid or fraudulent.
 
4.  James Waltoon
 An associate of mine had his son's identity stolen. The child was seven years old. The perpetrator used the child's social security number, changed his date of birth, address and opened a utility bill to establish an address. The perpetrator later opened up over 25,000 in credit cards and another 15,000 in loans. Three years after the fact, the parents of the minor got a strange letter of default. They investigated further and saw the list of fraudulent accounts. All accounts were frozen and closed. The creditors of said accounts however have deemed the CHILD/PARENTS liable to pay the debt. This child has a credit report with charge-offs and unpaid accounts. The parents have spoken to the credit bureau's to no avail.
 
5.  Merry O'Brien
 Its important to note that the victim's rights diminish if they do not file a police report against the perpetrator. However, the victim still has certain rights under FCRA § 611 (the Fair Credit Reporting Act) to correct errors on their credit reports even if they don't report to the police. This is important for legal and victim assistance professionals to know when helping, because - let's face it - most victims do not want to turn in their spouse, mother, sibling, etc. None of us would want to have to face that decision. So, a victim or legal helper should explain all of these options to the victim. Lawyers and victim advocates can learn all about this here: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/pdf-0119-guide-assisting-id-theft-victims.pdf
 
6.  Merry O'Brien
 As far as steps the others can take: the college aged child and a victim advocate can assist the child in first checking their credit to gauge the extent of the crime. This is tricky because children are not "supposed" to even have credit reports yet. So the system wasn't originally designed to respond to their request. However, because child IDT is such a growing concern, each credit reporting agency (CRA) now has instructions for doing so. Links to each CRA's instruction page can be found here: http://identitytheftnetwork.org/gethelp/i-was-a-child-victim.
 
7.  Merry O'Brien
 In the scenario you described, the other 5 children are fortunate that their older sibling has notified them of the crime so that they can take steps now. Unfortunately, in most cases, a child victim of identity theft doesn't find out they've been victimized for 18 years until they become an adult and apply for a car loan, college loans, or their first apartment. When the perpetrator is a family member, this adds to the devastating emotional toll.
 
8.  Paula
 It depends on how old the minor is and whether he/she has a dependable trusted adult to help. What you've described is child identity theft. Basically, the steps for recovering are the same as for any identity theft victim except that since the victim is under 18, they really need an adult to help. If the ID theft is ongoing, the child really needs help from law enforcement or from a lawyer who can request a court order making the parent stop. Some legal aid organizations have programs for youth with legal problems and most have programs that help consumers. Contact the local legal aid agency where the child lives to see whether the child can get free legal help.
 
 
Someone opened an account with DISH Network in my name in a state where I don't live. DISH told me to call the person using my ID and have them call DISH and have my name removed. That is crazy. Do I have any legal options?
 
1.  Paula
 Part 4 - if you have followed the procedure exactly and DISH does not close the account & have it removed from your credit report, then they are violating the FCRA (federal law). Report the violation to the FTC, and consult a private attorney in your community that handles consumer law issues to see whether it is feasible to file a civil lawsuit against DISH for violating the FCRA. BUT make sure you have followed the procedure exactly.
 
2.  Paula
 Part 3 - In a nutshell: 1) report to police & get copy of report; 2) report to FTC online at IdentityTheft.gov, click “Get Started.” or by calling 1-877-438-4338; 3) get a copy of the FTC report & sign it in front of a notary; 4) write DISH & the 3 credit bureaus explaining the account isn't yours & attach police report, copy of your ID, & the notarized FTC report. Demand that the account be closed and taken off your credit report immediately. Follow up to make sure the account is closed & removed. See part 4
 
3.  Paula
 Part 2 - The Fair Credit Reporting Act is a federal law that says what victims must do to get a fraudulent account removed. The FTC's booklet Taking Charge explains the procedure in detail. Find it here: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/pdf-0009-taking-charge.pdf See part 3
 
4.  Paula
 Part 1 - Yikes! Don't contact the ID thief. That's just plain dangerous & frankly irresponsible of the customer service person to suggest. Unfortunately, it points out something important for victims to realize: that the business that opened a fraudulent account is not your friend. The business's point of view is that if the victim is right, the business loses money. That's why victims so often find business to be unhelpful. Fortunately, there are legal options for victims. See part 2.
 
5.  Merry O'Brien
 Follow your phone call with a mailed, written dispute letter and include your FTC ID Theft Affidavit and a police report (if available). The FTC Affidavit is your entry point into the ability to assert many of your rights as an IDT victim and can be found here: https://www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov/. Then, request a closure confirmation letter from the company and all documents related to the IDT (also your right under federal law). When you are on the phone with the Fraud Department, ask them were to send the packet which will contain your 1)letter with request for confirmation and records related to the theft and 2) affidavit.
 
6.  Merry O'Brien
 As a victim of identity theft, you do have many legal rights. First, I'd suggest you call DISH back and - rather than speaking to the general customer service number - request to be put to the "Fraud Department" if possible. Instruct DISH to immediately close the account fraudulently opened.
 
7.  Merry O'Brien
 (1) I am sorry to hear this is happening. This is not an appropriate response and I question whether or not the response came from DISH or a fraudster. Did you initiate the call to DISH, or did you receive the call? If you did not initiate it, I'd be especially skeptical of its origins. Technology now days allows for "spoofing" to make the number appear on your caller ID that its coming from a valid company when its not. At any rate, you were right to be cautious about their response. And obviously, the thief is not going to simply stop their actions because you call and ask them nicely!
 
 
How can I convince my elderly mom that she has not won a lottery and get her to stop sending money! Also, how can I convince my elderly aunt that the love of her life she met on Senior Soulmates is a con artist stealing all of her money?
 
1.  Paula
 I'd like to expand on something Merry mentioned - I've heard from many many seniors that they fear talking to their family, their pastors, their health care providers, and other trusted helpers because they don't want to appear helpless. They truly fear someone wanting to institutionalize them, take their independence, or impose a guardianship on them if they ask for help. All of us make bad decisions sometimes. A little reassurance goes a long way.
 
2.  Merry O'Brien
 Finally, a very wise identity theft advocate once told me her approach: she tells the seniors exactly what these scams will likely fund - terrorism (ISIS), kidnapping (Boko Haram), the meth trade, sex trafficking, and so on. Many seniors in "The Great Generation" as well as the Baby Boomers of the 60's era are driven by helping others. Realizing that scammers will use their money to harm others banishes the idea that "I'd only hurt myself" if they extend a bit too much trust, go out on a limb, etc.
 
3.  Merry O'Brien
 I'd also make sure your good intentions aren't being perceived as ageism (ie "She doesn't think a man would find me attractive anymore so it must be a scam??") Seniors have received years of ageism from the community, media, family and are sensitive to this. Also, there is the fear that revealing what she's doing will mean you'll try to take away her independence. Make sure you reward her trust in you by being as gentle as possible in your response, and you'll get to continue in the circle of trust. The important thing is to not make her feel embarrassed or belittled - but instead communicate that scams can happen to us all.
 
4.  Merry O'Brien
 I recently gave a presentation to a lively and well-informed group of seniors who even taught me a prevention trick or two! How did they stay so well informed and keep ahead of the fraudsters? Through AARP's email or print Fraud Watch Dog Alerts: http://www.aarp.org/money/scams-fraud/fraud-watch-network/ and the Better Business Bureau's alerts: https://www.bbb.org/scamtracker/us/. One senior said she literally was on the phone with a scammer when she glanced over at the newsletter she'd just received in the mail, and saw the scenario she was experiencing (and believing) described on the page! She put the phone down.
 
5.  Paula
 PART 2 - One thing I did with my own family members was make an agreement with them that they will call me before sending money to a stranger - even if they've won something. What you are doing is buying a little time for the short-term decision making part of the brain to kick in. Then, together figure out whether it's a scam. It's been effective in my family.
 
6.  Paula
 It's a huge problem & you may not be able to convince either until $$$ is lost or a heart is broken. Rather than trying to convince someone who is already committed to a point of view, try a different tack. Educate with real stories - there are tons of horror stories out there. I practice safety tips with elderly consumers. Practice answering the phone and going through scam emails & Craigslist ads to find the clues for which are scams. Hopefully, eventually, the person starts to recognize the scammers.
 
 
How can people who don't have regular access to the internet easily check things like their credit report or bank statements to make sure that they aren't being the victims of financial fraud or identity theft?
 
1.  Paula
 Yes, you are entitled to one free credit report per year from each of the credit bureaus. However, if you order the reports from all 3 at one time, you'll have to pay for subsequent credit reports. That's why we recommend what Merry has said: order a free report from 1 credit bureau every 4 months. That way you have a consistent stream of free reports. Online services don't always work well for people who are not internet savvy, and many are really in the business to make money, so consumers have to be cautious so as not to fall for the "upsells."
 
2.  Merry O'Brien
 Here are the numbers & addresses they can call to request them the old fashioned way: Equifax: P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374: 800-525-6285. Experian: P.O. Box 9554 Allen, TX 75013: 888-397-3742. TransUnion: P.O. Box 6790 Fullerton, CA 92834: 800-680-7289. Just remember to tell them to check their mailbox promptly, and maybe even consider having the CRA send them to a PO box. After all, all of the consumer's info is on that report! Here's some good info on how to do all this: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0155-free-credit-reports
 
3.  Merry O'Brien
 Most importantly, everyone should be educated on how often they can review their credit report, so they put that on the calendar on their fridge and remember to call 1 of 3 credit reporting agencies (CRA) once every 4 months. Basically, you can educate low-tech or luddite consumers that they are entitled to a free report from each of the 3 CRA’s once a year (aka 1 every 4 months). If they have been victimized, they may place a Fraud Alert on their account or a Credit Freeze, which entitles them to receive more frequent reports. This won't prevent all forms of IDT (medical, etc.) but monitoring their reports is a good first line of defense.
 
4.  Paula
 The first thing is to make sure they are getting bank and credit card statements by mail. And, they can also request credit reports by mail by writing the credit bureaus. They can call the 1-800 number for a credit bureau to request a copy of the form. Unfortunately, the credit report takes several weeks to arrive by mail.
 
5.  James Waltoon
 You are entitled to a free annual credit report. You can also try free services like Credit Karma that notify you immediately of any change to your current credit status via Transunion and Equifax only.
 
 
Once a victim of fraud, how do you convince the three major credit bureau's of the fact? Police reports, statements from creditors and the like, do not constitute changes on your credit report. Even with letters affirming fraud from creditors to the bureau's, these creditors do not confirm the fraud. Instead they note the information is reporting correctly. The bureau's then say we checked the information and the creditor says it is posting on your report correctly. Even with a letter from the creditor, nothing has changed. What are your options then?
 
1.  Merry O'Brien
 I agree - sounds like a FCRA violation to me, from the limited information we have here. I'd look to see if you have a legal assistance type nonprofit in your area who can help: https://www.ovcttac.gov/identitytheftnetwork/ using the resource map. You can also contact the Identity Theft Resource Center nationally: http://www.idtheftcenter.org/. The Federal Trade Commission's Pro Bono Guide contains letters you or an attorney can help prepare to send to the CRA's to assert those rights: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/pdf-0119-guide-assisting-id-theft-victims.pdf. Here's a handy "ID Theft Victims' Bill of Rights" that affirms that victims have the right to a credit report free of fraud: http://www.ovc.gov/pdftxt/IDTrightsbooklet.pdf.
 
2.  Paula
 Without actually viewing the documents, I can't be completely sure, but it sounds like the credit bureaus may be violating the Fair Credit Reporting Act. I highly recommend getting the documents to a consumer protection lawyer. Another route would be to make a complaint to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and see if they'll investigate. If creditor (info furnisher) requests the item be removed, it should be removed.
 
 
Hi Merry and Paula, Could you share a success story about working with a victim of financial fraud? What went well, etc.
 
1.  Merry O'Brien
 (3) When she called the local precinct to report the thefts and the unlawful access to her email and phone accounts, she was told it was a "civil matter" and there was nothing they could do. Fortunately, the NVRDC attorney - newly trained in financial crime assistance - was able to help! We represented her in receiving a CPO against her husband and assisted her with reporting the crime to the police, by asserting her right to a report as a victim of identity theft, under DC law. This client will need intensive and long-term assistance in mediating damages her husband may have caused thus far, obtaining new copies of documents stolen, and preventing re-victimization. NVRDC will be there for her!
 
2.  Merry O'Brien
 (2) The woman was held at the DC Jail over the weekend and the case was never papered. When she arrived home, a significant amount of documents containing her personal identifying information were missing including her social security card, tax paperwork, immigration papers, bank account statements, passport, naturalization certificate, marriage certificate, and credit cards. Additionally, her personal and work email accounts had been logged into and all of her emails were deleted. While she had her phone in her hand, someone logged into her phone account and remotely wiped her phone. The only person with access to all of these documents and to her phone and email accounts was her husband. While she was held at DC jail, her husband had packed his belongings and fled.
 
3.  Merry O'Brien
 (1) Good question! We don't celebrate the ways in which we are useful to financial fraud and identity theft victims enough! Recently, Network for Victim Recovery of DC (NVRDC) helped a client who was assaulted by her husband, who then proceeded to harm himself to make it look as though he had been assaulted by his wife. Police arrived and, because of DC’s mandatory arrest statute, arrested the wife. Unfortunately, she was not allowed to take her wallet or any other personal identifying information with her at the time. The wife communicated that she was concerned her husband would take documents with her personal identifying information while she was absent from the home.
 
4.  Paula
 Part 2 - We know the education worked, because our victim shared a nasty email received from a scammer after she stopped falling for their scam emails. The most interesting thing was, we were able to get copies of bank statements from the fake accounts before we got them closed. The scammers were literally making a normal living. They were buying gas and groceries not taking extravagant trips or living a lavish lifestyle. This was their job. Go to work. Scam a bunch of innocent victims. Go home to the spouse and kids. That was eye-opening for me.
 
5.  Paula
 Part 1-I'll share a story that gave me some insights. We helped a retiree who had lost a lot of $ to email scams. The $ that was gone was gone, but she had started getting nasty letters from other victims thinking she was a scammer. We found that scammers had used her personal information to set up bank accounts through which they were laundering their $$$. We responded to the other victims to help them understand she was not the scammer. We were able to encourage all the victims to make reports to law enforcement, and we helped the victim learn tools to recognize scam emails.
 
 
I work for a state agency that will be providing a training to a group of investigators who investigate allegations of financial abuse and physical abuse against the disabled population the state agency serves. This group of investigators has received physical abuse training, but nothing on financial fraud. Could you point me in the direction of some resources we could use to help develop this training?
 
1.  Merry O'Brien
 Another avenue you can pursue is to request OVCTTAC resources. OVCTTAC may be able to send you (perhaps for free!) an expert in your area to train the staff. My nonprofit has used OVCTTAC before to host a strategic planning with our staff. Great service for our field and under-utilized in my opinion! The National Clearinghouse on Abuse in Later Life also is a resource for finding experts in your area. They have contacts for training on financial exploitation of vulnerable adults in all areas of the country. This month, I'll be utilizing NCALL's support to put on a training for our community on the topic - and bringing a national expert in to present. I could also recommend a few excellent folks if you'd like to contact me!
 
2.  Merry O'Brien
 Contact the Financial Crime Resource Center Director Laura Cook at lcook@ncvc.org. You can also go here to download the "Taking Action" desk guide - which is a handy tool for your staff: https://victimsofcrime.org/our-programs/financial-crime-resource-center.
 
3.  Merry O'Brien
 Paula mentioned some great resources! I'd add that our community recently partnered with the National Financial Crimes Resource Center and the FINRA Investor Education Foundation to bring a training called "Taking Action: Assisting Victims of Financial Crime" to our area. This group goes all around the country giving this training in conjunction with local hosts. I'd contact them to get in their schedule for the upcoming season. They set it up for you, bring snacks, materials, etc! You just help with getting the word out, finding a location to host it, and arranging local opening remarks.
 
4.  Paula
 Part 3 - and finally, I'd add some victim sensitivity training - very often victims encounter law enforcement officers who appear judgmental or insensitive. The victim is already embarrassed and self-critical - and with elderly or disabled people, sometimes there is a fear of being put under a guardianship that exacerbates the situation by making them hesitant to report or cooperate with law enforcement.
 
5.  Paula
 Part 2 - Also the National Center for Victims of Crime: http://victimsofcrime.org/docs/nat-conf-2013/vulnerable-adult-and-elder-abuse-presentation.pdf?sfvrsn=2 And, finally, I'd include something on Natalie Denman's brain research - why changes in our brains are a contributing factor: https://www.dana.org/Cerebrum/2009/Why_So_Many_Seniors_Get_Swindled/ Continued
 
6.  Paula
 How exciting - and so needed! The National Adult Protective Services Assn has some excellent training resources: http://www.napsa-now.org/get-informed/what-is-financial-exploitation/ The DOJ also has a comprehensive FAQ: https://www.justice.gov/elderjustice/financial/faq.html Continued
 
 
Can victim service providers use Victims of Crime Act (VOCA)funds to address the needs of victims of elder financial exploitation? I assume funds cannot be used to reimburse victims for actual financial losses due to scams, but can counseling for the crippling emotional injuries be a service for which VOCA funds can be used?
 
1.  Merry O'Brien
 Slight correction, an estimated 36% of identity theft victims reported moderate or severe emotional distress as a result of the incident. Here is the full report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics: http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/vit14.pdf
 
2.  Paula
 I second Merry's sentiments.Even though VOCA funds are not tax dollars but are actually monies paid by convicted criminals, only a few states are using crime victim compensation funds to assist financial crime victims in their recovery. What is ironic about this is that so much of these funds come from white collar criminals who have committed financial crimes. It is definitely an area where we need advocacy & education!
 
3.  Merry O'Brien
 Finally, The Office for Victims of Crime (OVC) published the final rule for its Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) Formula Victim Assistance Grant Program in the Federal Register earlier this month. The rule, effective on August 8th notes "that States may still fund services for victims of such (financial) crimes, but cannot count those services toward meeting the required allocation for the underserved victim category." So in short, states can fund these services! Furthermore, the VOCA rule change clarified and strengthened funding to the elderly and legal assistance funding - both of which intersect on this issue.
 
4.  Merry O'Brien
 For more on how VOCA funds can be used to assist victims of identity theft, check out this report by the National Association of VOCA Assistance Administrators (NAVAA) which listed examples of two states - MD and WV - who are indeed currently using VOCA funds to assist victims of financial crimes. It is also worth noting to all who would still question the use of VOCA funds for financial crime victims that the Crime Victim Fund is paid for not with tax dollars, but with the penalties and fines paid by federal offenders - many of which are financial fraudsters! So it makes perfect "karma" sense that these funds should help the victims affected by these fraudsters.
 
5.  Merry O'Brien
 (3) Furthermore, I'd like to point out that your state laws may offer restitution for victims of financial crimes. This is important because, on average, identity theft victims spend over a thousand dollars out-of-pocket in recovering from the crime (not counting what was actually stolen). This includes time spent from work driving around to report the crime, etc. To see your state's laws: https://www.ovcttac.gov/identitytheftnetwork/?tab=2
 
6.  Merry O'Brien
 (2) Once their PII has been compromised, there is no way to "undo" the violation - meaning, their SSN, name, DOB, and so on are out there, often sold to data brokers and available to be used again and again. So it is an ongoing feeling of violation, often by an unknown perpetrator who will never face justice. VOCA funds can and should be used to assist victims who need counseling to aid in their recovery. All of us in the victim assistance and allied spheres should educate our peers about the emotional needs of victims of financial crimes.
 
7.  Merry O'Brien
 (1) Your question points out a striking fact: victims of financial crime do experience emotional tolls similar in intensity that victims of violent crimes experience. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 14% experienced moderate to severe emotional distress. Furthermore, victims may experience this crime again and again throughout their lifetimes.
 
8.  Paula
 Yes, VOCA funded crime victim compensation programs are allowed to use VOCA funds to help victims of financial crimes with health care, e.g, counseling or mental health services. You're right that they cannot get lost money back. Check your state's crime victim compensation statute or contact your state's VOCA administrator's office for more information.
 
 
Thanks for answering all of our questions! I just wanted to ask you if/how you have seen financial fraud committed along with other types of crime. Does this intersect at all with violent victimizations?
 
1.  Merry O'Brien
 Also, this year - in observance of Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM), I guest-authored a blog post on the intersection between violent crimes and identity theft for Stop.Think.Connect and Stay Safe Online. You can find it here: https://staysafeonline.org/blog/april-is-sexual-assault-awareness-month-so-what-does-sexual-assault-have-to-do-with-cybercrime. (Stop.Think.Connect and Stay Safe Online are projects of the Cyber Security Alliance, a national private-public partnership which creates and implements education and awareness efforts around cybersecurity and identity theft).
 
2.  Merry O'Brien
 Great question! I'd encourage all who are attending this year's National Center for Victims of Crime (NCVC) Conference in Philadelphia to check out a session myself and Bridgette Stumpf are giving entitled "Integrating Identity Theft Safety Planning Into Your Work with Survivors of Sexual Assault, Domestic Violence, and Other Crimes:" https://victimsofcrime.org/training/national-training-institute/2016-national-training-institute. You can also access a training here: http://www.navaa.org/conf/12/IDTheft.pdf which myself, OVC, BJS, and Anne Seymour gave a couple years ago on the intersections of violent crime and identity theft. Good data within!
 
3.  Paula
 So glad you asked! Yes!!! There's actually a term, polyvictimization. Domestic violence victims are at high risk. Very often with elderly, disabled, child, or frail victims, financial abuse is accompanied by physical abuse. And, victims of mugging, robbery, or burglary can also find themselves victims of ID theft when thieves use or sell their IDs or credit cards. Victims of other crimes, e.g., sexual assault, are also vulnerable to fraud & ID theft - especially if a purse or wallet is lost as a result of the violent crime.
 
 
In the world of child abduction advocacy, we regularly see fraudulent organizations. The fraudsters will almost always respond to questions about credibility as "infighting" or the like. When you have valid examples of fraudulent activity, public citizens supporters have no idea who is credible and who is not. Fraudsters almost always have tech-saavy skills and sound and look credible, but the facts are hard for the uninformed to get to. And they public is not gonna dig that deep anyway. Who in the USG can vet these organizations, dig thru the misleading published documents and etc...??
 
1.  Paula
 On cheap investigating. You can find out a lot in public records. All 501c3 orgs' form 990s are public. Find the nearest "regional foundation library." They have free access to databases on charities. If you get the fake charity's 990, if they had over $50k in revenue, it should list at least one officer's name. If you can find out the state of incorporation, you can contact that secretary of state's corporations division for a list of corporate officers. Armed with their names & locations you can do all sorts of internet searches. This type of info might help pique law enforcement interest.
 
2.  Paula
 You are absolutely correct that law enforcement is swamped with these kinds of cases. However, I've seen US Attorneys offices prosecute fraud cases involving relatively small amount of money - not millions - when there are children, elderly, disabled, or other vulnerable populations involved. However, they are reticent to step on toes of local law enforcement. I don't know where you are located, but if your local police have a white collar crimes or fraud division, I'd start there. It may take multiple tries. A long time advocate friend calls it persistent gentle pressure.
 
3.  patrick
 Yes... So it is up to the real advocacy organizations to spend $ investigating the Fake advocacy organizations in order to Police the community. Further organizations like Ic3 wont even take a look unless it adds up to Millions of dollars, because they are swamped with millions of cases by way of the internet. So only high priority cases get any attention at all. Creating a new status quo,that is worse than before. All law enforcement agencies are swamped and stretched thin. So small time crooks get away without any oversight. Any other suggestions or resources?
 
4.  Paula
 It would be great if you could get a state attorney general's office or the FTC to investigate. They have resources beyond the public. However, a good private investigator can oftentimes trace assets purchased by fraudsters using publicly available records. It's tedious and costs money to do. Another way is by subpoena. That entails filing a civil lawsuit against the fake charity, so you'd have to have someone with legal standing such as a person who gave $ to the charity. The big problem is civil suits are really expensive & not cost effective unless large sums are at stake.
 
5.  -Patrick
 So obviously, if they went to the trouble of getting non-profit status. They will go to some lengths to circumvent their reporting duties to the IRS and State tax collection. What investigative options exist for finding the un-reported monies collected ? ie.- assets purchased, boats, houses, cars. And where we know they have collected donations under non profit claims but somehow steered money to other accounts?
 
6.  Paula
 You're absolutely right. And, fraudsters are able to adapt quicker than the rest of us can respond and adapt. If the orgs are posing as charities, then state attorney general offices should investigate as well as the IRS. If they have used US mail to perpetrate a fraud, then the US Postal Inspectors are very aggressive and have proven very effective at investigating fraud. If they are using the internet, the IC3 (www.ic3.gov) is a US law enforcement consortium that investigates computer crimes.
 
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