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Action Urged to Fight Elder Financial Abuse

The following is a guest post from AARP Money Content Editor John Burgess. |

Four decades out from his teen-aged check-forging spree, a lion-maned Frank Abagnale bears little resemblance to Leonardo DiCaprio, who portrayed him in the movie “Catch Me If You Can.” But Abagnale still knows a thing or two about fraud.

What I did 40 years ago as a teenager is 4,000 times easier to do today due to technology,” the reformed con man told the Senate Special Committee on Aging. “Unfortunately, technology breeds crime.”

Now an adviser to the FBI, Abagnale shared his perspective at a hearing on elder financial abuse. This crime can take many forms-embezzlement by a trusted caregiver, Ponzi scheme shares pitched by phone, heirlooms carried off in secret by a family member.

Abagnale suggested that since actual convictions are few and far between, the most important weapon against this form of crime is education. Older Americans-and younger ones too-need to know the warning signs of the kinds of fraud that a MetLife study found cost close to $3 billion in 2010. Among other things, Abagnale would like see a series of “creative public service announcements.”

He also offered tips for avoiding the crime:

“Job Number One”

The Committee heard from Skip Humphrey, head of the Office of Older Americans at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. In its first year of operation, he said, his office has made preventing elder exploitation “Job number one.” Like Abagnale, he called for better public education, with specific efforts such as helping employees at assisted living facilities recognize and report possible elder abuse.

Also testifying was Kay Brown, a director at the Government Accountability Office, who presented a report calling for a coordinated federal strategy against elder financial abuse. The fight, the report said, could benefit from such simple steps as more consistent collection of victims’ ages in crime reports, to allow a better understanding of how large the problem is.

There were bipartisan well wishes for special committee chairman Sen. Herb Kohl, who was instrumental in shepherding through Congress the Elder Justice Act. The Wisconsin Democrat will retire when his term runs out in January.  # # #

Additional resources: Find information on AARP.org to avoid Fraud and Scams, and read highlights of Outsmarting the Scam Artists by expert Doug Shadel. 

Photo via Abagnale.com