April 23, 2024

Mattingly Seeks Elder Abuse & Financial Fraud Unit

Posted for Shane Mattingly for State’s Attorney

The targeting of elderly and vulnerable adults is a widespread problem in Southern Maryland. With a growing population of seniors and vulnerable adults, the cases of elder financial abuse will continue to grow sharply. Older citizens are at the greatest risk for many types of fraud. As your next State’s Attorney, I will dedicate a division of my office to the prosecution of these crimes.

According to the Maryland Department of Aging, the geographic distribution of Maryland’s “sixty plus” population is very large in St. Mary’s County. In fact, 16 percent or 17,486 persons are living in St Mary’s County over the age of sixty.  This figure is expected to continue to rise and grow by almost 25 percent by 2030. This is the highest percentage of any county in Maryland.

This division will emphasize a community based approach which includes collaborating with law enforcement, meeting with other agencies to develop solutions, meeting with the community to educate the elderly, and dedicating a prosecutor and investigator to handle the cases at both the district and circuit court levels. My office would go into our community for both educational and prosecution purposes. In many instances, it is important to the victim to be interviewed in their home where they are most comfortable.

The American Prosecutors Research Institute (APRI) has determined that local prosecutors have a crucial role to play in fighting elder financial abuse cases. It was agreed that the elements needed to be successful included: the elected State’s Attorney’s personal commitment to a proactive, innovative approach; early involvement of the prosecutor’s office; victim advocacy and support; community outreach and education; and law enforcement training.

APRI believes that the magnitude of the elder abuse problem lies “beneath the surface”. The vast majority of the elderly do not report cases of fraud, so it is vital to reach out to the community. Prevention is better than remediation. My office will participate and contribute to all public education efforts.

Elderly victims are very different from the typical victim for law enforcement and they must be treated accordingly. It is vital to assist in the training of law enforcement to learn to work with the elderly victims. This is outlined in the APRI’s two publications that were used as research for this proposal. They are, “Protecting American’s Senior Citizens: What Local Prosecutors Are Doing to Fight Elder Abuse” and “Prosecution of Elder Abuse, Neglect, & Exploitation: Criminal Liability, Due Process and Hearsay”.

APRI found that working with elderly victims requires patience and time to work through the victim’s fear of losing their independence, or, retaliation. It is also difficult in that the victims tend to forget facts. Consequently, prosecutors and investigators need to carefully relate to their victims.

Mike Giacobello, a respected prosecutor, stated in the “Protecting American’s Senior Citizens” that, “Financial exploitations cases are long-term cases. With an elderly victim, you really need to take time. . . You might have lunch with the person, or spend time just getting them comfortable to talk about the situation. Sometimes it takes an hour to explain who you are and why you’re there. You can’t talk like a cop. Talk softly, explain yourself, use simple language. You may need to repeat yourself a lot; You really need to be patient. You need people who are wiling to go out in the field, talk to people, spend time with them.”

Special care must be given to the victims of these crimes because the elderly resist reporting fraud to law enforcement. Elderly people face a number of additional worries and fears when they are victimized. First, they may doubt their ability to meet the expectations of law enforcement and worry that officers or prosecutors will think of they are incompetent. They may worry that a family member, upon learning of their victimization, will think they are incompetent. Further, they may fear retaliation by the offender for reporting the crime. Finally, elderly people may experience feelings of guilt for “allowing” themselves to be victimized.

As opposed to other categories of victims, the elderly are unusually susceptible to catastrophic consequences if their life savings are stolen or substantially depleted because unlike other victims, most elders are on fixed incomes and are unable to make up any losses they sustain. The common financial crimes against the elderly are investigated by the police and should be prosecuted by attorneys with specialized knowledge of those crimes. The crimes include theft, forgery, issuing false checks, destruction of wills and breach of fiduciary duty.

Basically there are four offender types who financially exploit the elderly victim:

Family members. While there is a tendency to sweep this perpetrator category under the rug, data shows that family members are the most common perpetrator of financial crimes against the elderly. Such cases are difficult because the victim may be confused or unable to remember the underlying facts, the desire to treat the incident as a “family matter” and the existence of family dynamics coupled with substance abuse and dysfunctional behavior.

Caregivers can be family members or professional healthcare workers such as aides, physicians, nurses, administrators and support staff. This type of exploitation is particularly horrible because the victim depends on them for care. Often the victim is alone with a caregiver and susceptible to financial crimes with out even knowing that they have been committed.

Fiduciaries such as notaries, accountants, stockbrokers, real estate agents, lawyers and people holding powers of attorneys often use their positions of trust to benefit themselves.

Con Artist. Con artists swindle the elderly through fraudulent door-to-door, mail and other schemes offering the opportunity to “get rich quick”. This can also be home improvement scams and other new fraud schemes targeted at the elderly.

One area of tremendous focus for the elderly community is that of telemarketing fraud. More than eighty percent of telemarketing fraud victims are seniors. The most widely used telemarketing fraud schemes against the elderly are charity schemes, fraudulent magazine subscriptions, prize or promotional schemes and lotteries. Other schemes include credit card, work at home schemes, identity theft, credit repair, loan and investment schemes.

Law enforcement and the prosecutors must work together. St. Mary’s County Sheriff Tim Cameron reports that in 2013 his office investigated many cases involving elderly victims. In addition to the Sheriff’s office, complaints would be received from the Social Security Administration, the United States Postal Inspection Service and the Adult Protective Services Unit. Cooperation with these agencies would provide a way of insuring that the cases of these important victims would not be lost in the volume of cases handled by District Court prosecutors.

Under my administration, my staff would travel to various nursing homes, senior clubs, libraries and senior centers throughout the jurisdiction to educate and prevent victimization of the elderly. This is an effort whose time has come because elderly victims helped build Maryland. They should be treated with the respect they have earned. Our elderly citizens will always have a strong advocate in the State’s Attorney’s Office.

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