Remarks as prepared for delivery
Thank you, Jody for that kind introduction and for your 19 years of service to the Department of Justice.
I also want to thank Deputy Secretary Censky and all of our panelists for sharing their insights and experiences with us today: Brent Elrod, Nicole Case, and Daniel Adame. Thank you to Tony Roman for making the trip from West Virginia to be here to share your story.
Thank you of course to the 11 United States Attorneys who are here with us representing federal law enforcement from Southern California to Connecticut.
Thank you to the Northeast Senior Singers of the Congressional Chorus for that beautiful rendition of “God Bless America.” Let’s give them another round of applause.
And thank you to everyone in our audience for being here to recognize the 13th annual World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. Thank you for all that you do for our seniors.
We are here because elder abuse is a serious problem that is all too common today. It is widely estimated that one in ten seniors in the United States is abused.
That abuse can be physical. But often that abuse takes the form of financial exploitation or fraud.
Each year, an estimated 3 billion is stolen or defrauded from millions of American seniors. Through “grandparent scams,” fake prizes, romance scams, fraudulent IRS refunds, and even outright extortion, criminals try to exploit some of the most vulnerable Americans and steal their life’s savings.
These are malicious, despicable crimes.
And it appears as though this threat is only growing. The Senate Aging Committee's Fraud Hotline received twice as many reports in 2016 as it received in 2015.
This year we are especially mindful of the 20 percent of American seniors who live in rural communities.
I grew up in rural Alabama. Let me tell you: rural people are tough, resilient, and strong.
But in tightly knit communities like the one I grew up in, people are generous and they develop a sense of trust with one another. Criminals look at that and they see opportunity.
But the bigger problem in rural communities is ensuring that law enforcement has the resources they need.
Many people in rural areas don’t live a near a big police station or a sheriff’s office with the resources to conduct the kind of investigations necessary.
Last week, we held a meeting of the Elder Justice Coordinating Council at HHS, and we had the opportunity to hear from a number of experts about how the opioid epidemic is affecting our seniors. One theme that came up again and again is that, in rural areas, law enforcement resources are often spread too thin.
Small law enforcement agencies covering big areas of land cannot reasonably be expected to do the kind of investigations that are necessary in fighting fraud, which are often national or international in scope.
What often appears to be a single case of fraud is actually part of a transnational criminal enterprise.
That’s where we come in.
In February I announced the largest elder fraud enforcement action in American history. We charged more than 200 defendants with committing fraud schemes against more than one million American seniors. We brought civil actions against dozens more. The defendants in these cases allegedly robbed seniors of more than half a billion dollars.
The fraud schemes stopped by this operation that caused the greatest loss to victims were international. The victims of those schemes were mostly Americans—but the criminals behind the schemes were mostly from overseas. State and local law enforcement don’t have the jurisdiction or the resources to take on these cases. But we do.
For another example, a man from Washington state defrauded members of a rural fishing village in Alaska out of $2.7 million over a period of six years.
He told them that he was going to get money from a big class-action lawsuit and that if they just paid his bills for awhile, he would repay them with interest. Of course, that was a lie.
One of his victims lost his home and then died of cancer. Meanwhile, the fraudster collected $80,000 in need-based Social Security benefits. This is despicable.
But in December, thanks to the hard work of our fabulous DOJ prosecutors, this fraudster was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
We will bring many more cases like these in the future. In January, I ordered all 94 of our U.S. Attorneys’ offices to each designate an elder justice coordinator, who will customize our strategy to protect seniors in their district.
This will ensure even greater cooperation between the Department of Justice and our law enforcement partners at the state and local levels. We believe that will help us complete more cases and secure more convictions.
Today I am announcing our next steps.
The Department of Justice will partner with the Department of Agriculture to improve our presence in rural communities.
As many of you know, USDA has staff throughout the country. USDA’s state and local partners will be invaluable to spread the word about how to report a fraud scam and how to avoid become a victim in the first place. They are well respected in rural areas.
We will work together to publish information and to schedule public events and town hall meetings that will educate seniors on the threat of fraud and on how to report these crimes.
In August, we will hold a nationwide elder justice training event. We also held a training event this morning and we worked with subject matter experts from around the country to publish EAGLE, the Elder Abuse Guide for Law Enforcement.
In November, we will convene a summit in Des Moines, Iowa, on Elder Abuse in Rural and Tribal Communities. We hope that this event will call attention to this issue, improve our law enforcement tactics, and prevent elder abuse from continuing to spread.
I want to thank each of you again for your contribution to this effort. Each of us has a role to play—and not just those of us in government. All of us are able to raise awareness about the threat of elder abuse—and especially elder fraud.
I am confident that, if we work together, we can ensure that seniors have the security and the peace of mind that they deserve. Thank you.