U.S. Treasury’s financial crimes network warns of elder exploitation

In a new trends report, FinCEN says it received more than 155,000 reports about elder financial exploitation from mid-2022 to mid-2023

The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), a division of the U.S. Department of the Treasury, is sounding the alarm over challenges faced by elder financial exploitation (EFE).

In a newly released trends report, FinCEN highlighted more than $27 billion worth of “suspicious activity” across more than 155,000 filings of Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) data with FinCEN between June 15, 2022 and June 15, 2023.

The data is linked to elder financial exploitation, “or the illegal or improper use of an older adult’s funds, property, or assets.” Within the $27 billion-plus in reported suspicious activity, EFE could include both actual and attempted transactions that “may affect personal savings, checking accounts, retirement savings, and investments, and can severely impact victims’ well-being and financial security,” the report stated.

This is a follow-up to a prior notice issued by FinCEN in June 2022, which aimed to alert financial institutions of a rising trend of EFE. FinCEN noted that companies should be aware of these activities and attempt to counteract them through both internal mechanisms and reporting to authorities.

“FinCEN has long recognized the threat that [EFE] poses and the need to protect the older adult population from financial abuse,” FinCEN Director Andrea Gacki said in a statement. “FinCEN’s analysis highlights the critical role of financial institutions in helping to identify, prevent, and report suspected [EFE]. We are grateful for their vigilance and for the BSA information they have filed — and continue to file — in response to FinCEN’s 2022 advisory.”

Seventy-two percent of all EFE filings included in the data were filed by banks, with two banks alone accounting for 50,670 (33%) of all filings. The most commonly cited typology of the EFE incidents were “account takeovers,” and adult children of the elder victims were the most common perpetrators, according to the report.

“BSA filers reported adult children as the perpetrators of elder theft in nearly 40% of cases, based on a manual review of EFE-related filings,” the report explained.

Perpetrators also relied primarily on what FinCEN refers to as “unsophisticated means,” or those that “minimize direct contact with financial institution employees” and which include “using previously compromised identifying information and/or passwords, guessing passwords, or mass spam emails that elicit replies containing sensitive information.”

This is because direct involvement with financial institution personnel would increase the likelihood of being caught, since workers at these institutions “would likely identify EFE activity more frequently if victims or perpetrators conducted transactions in person, and presumably not permit the requested transactions.”

Financial institutions also filed significantly more reports related to scams targeting seniors, most frequently including “tech support” scams in which a perpetrator falsely claims to offer technical assistance, or “romance scams” in which a perpetrator attempts to present themselves as a potential romantic partner to the victim.

Real estate scams are also included in the typology of the report, although it does not mention reverse mortgages specifically. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Office of the Inspector General (OIG) previously identified reverse mortgage scams as a potential vehicle for perpetrators to target elderly victims.

Late last year, the FBI warned the public about a problematic rise in instances of elder financial abuse. Seniors are common targets of financial scammers, and authorities consistently warn the public to safeguard the financial accounts and assets of their loved ones.

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