New legislation will protect older adults in North Carolina from fraud
Although schemes to rip off unsuspecting seniors are not new, what is new is the growing population of older adults in North Carolina, the increased sophistication of scams using the Internet and the international scope of this crime.
These scams take place statewide. For example, in Durham County, an unlicensed securities trader was charged with encouraging older adults to roll over their retirement funds into his care, which he then invested in businesses. In Orange County, an older adult received an email as part of a scam claiming that there was a problem with his online checking account. The email asked him to provide personal financial information and passwords to sensitive accounts. He did, and he became a victim of fraud and identity theft.
Scammers do not discriminate, targeting elders of all socio-economic brackets, all races, both male and female. Some risk factors include being homebound, having memory impairments, possessing assets that are easily converted to cash and the expectation that often seniors are just more polite.
The stories of fraud against the elderly across this state are rampant and appalling. It is even more tragic when the fraud is carried out by relatives, family friends or caregivers.
The most recent data from the Federal Trade Commission shows North Carolina already ranks 24th among the 50 states in the number of fraud complaints per capita and 23rd in the number of identity theft complaints per capita. The Federal Trade Commission says that people over 50 account for almost one-half of all consumer fraud complaints, and more than a third of all identify theft complaints. These figures are likely to go up quickly as the huge baby boom generation started turning 65 in 2011. By 2020, 820,000 more baby boomers will turn 65 in North Carolina, so that’s 820,000 more targets for scammers. In 2012, the FTC listed Durham as a hot spot for consumer fraud complaints. The N.C. Center for Public Policy Research conducted research on this important issue and made recommendations to the legislature.
To combat this crime, Senator Stan Bingham, R-Davidson, sponsored Senate Bill 140 (signed into law by Gove. Pat McCrory as Session Law 2013-337) to protect against the financial exploitation of older adults. Representative Hugh Blackwell, R-Burke, shepherded the bill through the House. The bill passed the Senate 47-0 and the House 111-1. This legislation will increase the recognition of fraud committed against the elderly and work to prevent it, increase reporting when fraud is suspected, and increase the prosecution of those who would defraud or financially exploit the elderly. It also continues the work of the Task Force on Fraud Against Older Adults, co-chaired by Senator Bingham and Representative Blackwell.
The Task Force includes representatives from the financial industry such as the N.C. Bankers Association, State Employees Credit Union, and Commissioner of Banks; from state agencies such as the Division of Aging and Adult Services and the State Treasurer’s Office; from advocacy groups for the aging such as AARP and the Senior Tar Heel Legislature; and from law enforcement groups such as the FBI, the N.C. Conference of District Attorneys, the N.C. Chiefs of Police; and from the N.C. Center for Public Policy Research.
The Task Force met all last year and came up with a multi-pronged approach that is designed to prevent fraud on the front end with the help of the banking, savings and loan, and credit union community, and to step up prosecution of fraud on the back end with the help of the N.C. Conference of District Attorneys and the Attorney General’s office.
So whether it’s fake home and roof repair schemes in Wake, Nash and Wilson counties, or securities fraud targeting an Alzheimer’s victim in Wake County, or a fake home health aide stealing money and checks in Mecklenburg County, or sweepstakes and lottery scams in Northeastern North Carolina, or a scam in your own hometown, the work of the Task Force will help prevent fraud committed against the elderly and step up the prosecution of fraud all across North Carolina.
Mebane Rash is an attorney with the nonpartisan N.C. Center for Public Policy Research. The Center released a report on fraud committed against older adults in March 2010. It continues to work on this issue.