As many as one in five older Americans has been the victim of a financial swindle, resulting in a staggering loss of $3 billion in one year alone, Attorney General Eric Holder told the audience at AARP’s National Event & Expo in New Orleans.
The heartbreak behind these figures is unconscionable. Holder says stepped-up enforcement against financial fraud is a priority at the Justice Department. But he says the government’s success, in part, is dependent on “allies” like AARP for raising awareness about these and other issues.
He praised the advocacy group for being “instrumental in improving the quality of life for countless citizens as they enter their golden years.”
“That’s especially true of your efforts to help aging Americans protect their hard-earned savings,” Holder told the attendees at AARP’s Life@50 event.
He cited the AARP Foundation ElderWatch project, which provides information about investment scams that target those 50-plus. “Through webinars and tele-town halls, which showcase tips for helping seniors keep their money safe from scammers, you are reaching people in their own homes and communities,” Holder told the AARP. “And by working with the U.S. Department of Justice to sponsor a series of Fraud Fighter Forums, you’re helping educate the public on how to avoid becoming victims of common financial scams.”
Holder says those efforts are paying off. Since last year, more than 1,300 people were put behind bars for committing financial fraud against Americans, including hundreds of older adults who lost millions of dollars.
One person was sentenced to 50 years in prison for preying on more than 400 elderly victims in a $40 million Ponzi scheme; another was sentenced to 10 years for victimizing more than 200 retirees and older adults by advertising high investment returns, then losing their money on high-risk investments.
Another man was sentenced to 30 years for using about $15 million, “entrusted to him by more than 160 retirees,” to build a home for himself, buy jewelry and luxury cars and make investments for himself.
Holder says these examples are just the beginning. He says the Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force that was established in 2009 is expanding. It’s created two new Working Groups – a Residential Mortgage-Backed Securities Working Group, a federal and state effort to investigate and prosecute abuses; and a Consumer Protection Working Group aimed at enhancing enforcement of consumer fraud.
The stories of victims “shock our collective conscience and break our hearts; stories of lost savings and dreams; of bankruptcies, forced moves and foreclosures, and unexpected debt; of seniors who once hoped to retire in peace and with dignity, but are now searching for jobs and living in poverty, fear, desperation and dependency,” he says.
Holder says the government has a strong partner in AARP to combat financial fraud by educating consumers about approaching potential investments with caution and to report suspected fraud schemes immediately.
Credit: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images