Remarks as Prepared for Delivery
Good morning, everyone. Kellyanne, thank you for the introduction. Thank you also to the Senior Citizens VA Color Guard and Senior Choir for the presentation of colors and the patriotic interlude. And thank you all for sharing your time today as well as for your commitment to keeping seniors safe.
It is an honor to be here at this important event in the great state of Florida.
Today’s event highlights an issue I am personally very committed to: protecting our seniors from abuse. I am proud of the work the Department of Justice is doing to keep our seniors safe, and I am pleased to have several announcements to discuss today.
Additionally, I want to highlight what the Department of Justice is doing to combat two of the most pressing threats our elderly citizens are facing.
Let me start with the problem of fraud. As people live longer, fraud directed against the elderly has become an increasingly serious problem. In fact, it has been mushrooming in recent years. According to one report by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, financial scams and other crimes singling out older Americans quadrupled from 2013 to 2017, and involved more than $6 billion in fraud.
With the advent of the Internet and other technology, the elderly have become especially vulnerable.
What makes these crimes particularly heinous is not only the vulnerability of the victims, not only the breach of trust involved, but also the victims’ stage in life – the victims usually do not have the opportunity to recover from the financial loss.
Victims have entered what should be their golden years, having worked hard to save up for their retirement. And frequently, they lose their life savings to these cold-blooded fraudsters. These crimes devastate lives.
This is why the Trump administration has made attacking fraud against our senior citizens one of its top priorities. Shortly before I was appointed to serve as Attorney General, something happened that drove home to me the viciousness of this crime, and why we had to tackle it full on.
I myself was used as a lure in a scam. My official Justice Department portrait from 1992 was uploaded to various websites. My fake persona was informing people that, as the former Attorney General, I had special access to government grants, and that if people sent me some money, I would tell them how to get a lot of money in exchange.
I started getting phone calls from people asking why they had not received their money. My portrait kept appearing on these bogus websites, and I kept getting calls at my office. These were frantic calls. Some people were desperately hoping this was not a scam. Others who called were embarrassed, and wanted to let me know this was going on, and to know who they could contact for support. I remember a number of the calls. One woman from Georgia explained that she and her husband had lost their life savings: $40,000.
Under President Trump, the department is confronting this evil. In 2017, President Trump signed into law the Elder Abuse Prevention and Prosecution Act to improve the justice system’s response to victims in elder abuse and exploitation cases.
Then the following year, he signed an Executive Order that established a task force within the Department of Justice, which placed new emphasis on the growing problems of cyber fraud and fraud targeting the elderly. The department appointed a National Elder Justice Coordinator to oversee our work to combat elder fraud. Further, all 94 U.S. Attorney’s Offices, including the one here in Tampa, have a prosecutor who focuses on the most pressing elder justice issues facing each particular district.
We have been aggressively bringing enforcement actions in criminal and civil cases throughout the country. Last year, I announced the results of the largest Elder Fraud Sweep ever conducted. It involved more than 260 defendants who victimized more than two million Americans, and caused more than $750 million in loss.
When I announced those results last March, I vowed that we would step up our efforts. I am proud to announce that the department and its law enforcement partners fulfilled that promise. Today, I am pleased to report the results of our annual Elder Fraud Sweep.
This year’s Sweep involved over 400 defendants from around the globe – a 54-percent increase – and in excess of $1 billion in loss. I am proud of the fact that every one of our U.S. Attorneys’ Offices around the country was involved in these cases. This demonstrates the breadth and depth of our commitment to attack elder fraud. I pledge we will continue to escalate the fight.
As we have worked closely with banks and other private sector partners in this effort, it has become clear that a substantial part of the fraud against elders is conducted by transnational criminal organizations. For this reason, we have now expanded our enforcement efforts to have global reach.
Last June, I announced the establishment of the Transnational Elder Fraud Strike Force. This is a joint law enforcement effort that brings together the resources and expertise of the department’s Consumer Protection Branch, the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices for six federal districts, the FBI, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, and other organizations. The Strike Force focuses on investigating and prosecuting individuals and entities associated with foreign-based fraud schemes targeting Americans.
Impressively, the Strike Force has already prosecuted more than one quarter of the 2020 sweep defendants.
When we can, we charge wrongdoers criminally. But we have also made effective use of our civil enforcement tools. Just last month, for example, the government filed landmark civil actions for temporary restraining orders against five companies and three individuals allegedly responsible for carrying out hundreds of millions of fraudulent robocalls, leading to massive financial losses to elderly across the nation. In a one-week period, they placed over 13 million fraudulent robocalls in Florida alone. The complaints allege that the defendants ignored numerous warnings that the calls carried on their voice-over-internet-protocol services facilitated foreign-based fraud schemes targeting Americans. The complaints also allege that the defendants carried out an astronomical number of robocalls, most of which originated in India.
Another line of attack has been to go after the money flowing back to the fraudsters. Last year, I announced a concentrated effort across the country and around the world to halt money mule activity. Money mules assist fraud schemes by receiving money from victims, many of them elderly, and funneling the proceeds to foreign-based perpetrators. During a two-month initiative, U.S. law enforcement disrupted mule networks that spanned from Hawaii to Florida and from Alaska to Maine. Actions were taken to halt the conduct of over 600 domestic money mules. The department also tripled the number of criminal prosecutions brought against money mules as compared to the prior year’s initiative.
The department is also fully engaged in working with our government and private partners to expand outreach to older Americans. Currently, only one in 44 cases of financial abuse is reported. One way to increase reporting is to increase awareness. To that end, we are committed to, by the end of next fiscal year, conducting at least 375 elder fraud-related events for state and/or local government officials; 275 elder fraud-related events with senior citizens and/or organizations representing seniors, and; over 155 elder fraud-related events with industry groups and/or representatives.
Unfortunately, the victimization of our elders is not limited to financial predation. We are very concerned about physical abuse and neglect of our seniors.
Over the past few years, the department has uncovered horrifying examples of certain nursing facilities, where seniors are being mistreated, undernourished, and neglected.
These incidents are extremely unsettling, and I will not get too graphic. Suffice it to say, the department has encountered nursing homes where the residents are literally being eaten away by scabies, where patients are left with bed sores down to the bone, where prescribed medication is not being provided, and patients are left screaming in pain for hours on end. We have found facilities unfit for living, plagued by filth, mold, insects, and rodents.
As you know, President Trump has repeatedly pledged to help and to provide hope to forgotten Americans. As part of that commitment, I am now announcing the launch of the department’s National Nursing Home Initiative. This will be a comprehensive Department of Justice effort, led by the Elder Justice Initiative and in strong partnership with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Together, we will use every available tool to pursue nursing homes that provide grossly-substandard care to their residents. In fact, we have initiated investigations into approximately 30 individual nursing facilities in nine states.
Mark my words: The Initiative will bring to justice those owners and operators who put profits before patients, and it will help to ensure that the residents receive the care to which they are entitled.
I must point out that none of this is an indictment of the assisted-living industry as a whole. There are many terrific facilities out there being managed by wonderful people with dedicated staff. To be sure, most of them are great, delivering the care that their residents need and deserve. Unfortunately, there are some really bad apples who are abusing seniors, and we are set on figuring out exactly who they are, and putting an end to their cruelty.
Elder Fraud Hotline Announcement
The criminals who perpetrate these crimes depend on their victims’ silence. Victims routinely report feeling embarrassed or ashamed at having fallen for these ploys. However, we must act and speak up.
Moreover, we must do a better job of making assistance readily available to potential victims who are approached about a fraudulent scheme.
I am pleased to announce the launch of the department’s National Elder Fraud Hotline. It will provide services to adults ages 60 and older, who may be victims of financial fraud. English, Spanish, and other languages will be available. The Hotline will be staffed by experienced case managers who can provide personalized support to callers. Case managers will assist callers with reporting the suspected fraud to relevant agencies and by providing resources and referrals to other appropriate services as needed. When applicable, case managers will complete a complaint form with the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) for Internet-facilitated crimes, and submit a consumer complaint to the Federal Trade Commission on behalf of the caller. The number is 1-833-FRAUD-11 (1-833-372-8311).
Reporting is the first step. It can help authorities identify those who commit fraud, which can prevent others from becoming victims.
Without a doubt, the ongoing campaign against elder fraud and abuse is a collaborative effort. It will require everyone working together. It will demand a close partnership between the public sector and the private sector.
Every one of us must do our part too. If you are a local banker who spots something fishy, call. If you are a cashier who sees a senior buying gift cards in bulk, step forward and say something. If you are a local sheriff who notices abnormal trends, take action. If you work in a nursing facility or with EMS and see something out of the ordinary, report it. And if you are the owner or manager of a nursing facility and you need assistance, please reach out.
We will continue to prosecute an all-out attack on elder fraud and abuse. As long as I am Attorney General, this will be a priority.
Seniors are a cherished part of our society, and we must treat them as such. In a special message to Congress in 1963, John F. Kennedy noted that longer lifespans offered distinct opportunities for our nation, namely the chance to draw upon the “skill and sagacity” of senior citizens and to, in return, “provide the respect and recognition they have earned.” He continued, “It is not enough for a great nation merely to have added new years to life – our objective must also be to add new life to those years.”
Thank you to all the U.S. Attorneys, our Elder Justice Coordinators, our trial attorneys, and the thousands of state and local law enforcement officers across the country who have fought hard, and continue to fight, for America’s senior citizens. They should take great pride in the results of their work.
Again, thank you all for your time, your concern, and everything you do to help your fellow man in the pursuit of justice. It truly means a world of difference for millions of people.
The year 2020 marks the 150th anniversary of the Department of Justice. Learn more about the history of our agency at www.Justice.gov/Celebrating150Years.