Department of Justice (Credit: bpperry / Getty Images)
The Department of Justice brought more than 220 criminal and civil enforcement actions covering almost 20 different types of fraud targeting older Americans, according to the agency’s annual report to Congress on combating elder fraud and abuse, issued Monday.
The report, which covers the department’s elder justice efforts from July 1, 2020, through June 30, 2021, noted that the COVID-19 pandemic heightened the risk for abuse directed toward older adults who are socially isolated and vulnerable to exploitation.
Fraud types included tech support scams, veteran scams and fraud perpetrated by guardians and powers of attorney. For the first time, the DOJ brought cases that disrupted overseas internet calling services that supported fraudulent robocalls and brought down data companies and list brokers that facilitated mass marketing fraud.
The report includes several fraud cases involved assisted living residents, including:
- A widow who lived in an assisted living community and, later, a nursing home, was duped into signing over power of attorney to Kimberly Henny, who pleaded guilty in 2020 to wire fraud for stealing $495,000 between 2014 and 2016. Henny was sentenced to 70 months in prison and ordered to pay restitution to the victim’s children.
- A financial adviser defrauded clients, including older adults, out of more than $6 million from 2007 to 219 by making unauthorized transactions from client accounts for his own personal benefit. The scheme was uncovered when a victim attempted to obtain a bridge loan to cover relocation expenses to an assisted living community until her home sale was completed. She and her daughter discovered that an $800,000 loan already had been obtained in the older woman’s name without her knowledge or permission. Michael Barry Carter was sentenced to five years in prison on charges of wire fraud and investment fraud.
- In a pending case in Montana, Elizabeth Stephenson, an assisted living caregiver, allegedly withdrew $16,000 from a 96-year-old resident’s account after he gave her his debit card so she could buy him beer. The caregiver also allegedly spent more than $1,000 on fees to talk to her boyfriend in jail, and she allegedly obtained a credit card from the man’s account, which she reportedly used to pay $3,500 for a criminal defense attorney.
- In Virginia, Mable Jones, the former owner and operator of now shuttered Jones & Jones assisted living facility, pleaded guilty to healthcare fraud after using more than $823,000 of residents’ federal and state benefits to satisfy personal debts and fund personal travel, retail purchases and gambling expenses. The action led to “significant and persistent deficiencies in the facilities, care and services provided to residents, including deficiencies that allegedly endangered residents’ health and safety.” State and federal audits led to the facility’s closure.
The report also highlighted ways the DOJ supported older adult fraud victims. The FBI’s Recovery Asset Team worked with financial institutions to freeze more than $13.5 million belonging to older victims of fraud before those monies were wired elsewhere and lost. And the Office for Victims of Crime awarded $1.6 billion in Victims of Crime Act grants to states, with $86 million allocated to programs serving older crime victims.
The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center released the first 2020 Elder Fraud Report earlier this year. It found that more than 100,000 older adults filed complaints resulting in $1 billion in losses. The greatest financial losses in that report were associated with confidence fraud / romance scams.
Last month, the Senate Special Committee on Aging released its annual fraud report, which found that the top five scams reported to the committee’s fraud hotline from Jan. 1, 2015, through Dec. 31, 2020 were government impersonation scams (3,383 complaints), sweepstakes scams (639), illegal robocalls / unsolicited phone calls (636), computer scams (445) and grandparent scams (368).