Forbes (December 2, 2021) - The Securities and Exchange Commission was told by experts Thursday greater cooperation between government agencies at the federal, state, and local levels and the private sector is needed in the fight against senior financial abuse.
In a forum at a SEC Investor Advisory Committee meeting, Paul Greenwood, Head of Elder Abuse Team, San Diego County District Attorney’s Office and other experienced professionals in the space called on a greater use of multidisciplinary teams in the battle.
He said the social isolation caused by the pandemic has increased the severity of the problem. Greenwood said one problem he and others engaged in prosecuting the fraud is that many police officers and judges dismiss complaints about the abuse as civil rather than a criminal enforcement matter.
He pointed to law enforcement officers who are often scared off when a suspected violation is called “securities fraud” and tell victims and their supporters that the acts aren’t crime because there was no force or violence involved.
“But even without force or violence, it is still a crime. Let’s call it what it is: theft,” said the attorney. More legislation to allow regulators to work more collaboratively would help, Kristen Standifer, Chair of the North American Securities Administrators Association told the hearing.
One measure before Congress that could provide assistance is the Empowering States To Protect Seniors From Bad Actors Act which would create a grant program to be administered by the SEC for state-led task forces in the battle, said Standifer, a Financial Legal Examiner in the Securities Division of the. Washington State Department of Financial Institutions.
She said one barrier state securities offices are facing in their efforts to combat the abuse is many don’t have access to suspicious activity reports which financial institutions must file with the federal Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN).
Those fighting against senior financial abuse are hindered, AARP Fraud Prevention Programs Director Kathy Stokes said at the meeting because often people blame the victims for their victimizations.
Billions of dollars are stolen each year and thousands of lives are lost to suicide from the acts, but it is a crime society doesn’t pay much attention to, Stokes asserted. She noted crypto currency fraud has become larger in the abuse.
The SEC’s Regulation Best Interest hasn’t stifled financial advisers from recommending difficult to understand and risky complex financial products, like non-traded REITs, to seniors because the advisers can make multiple times from these investments that they can from mutual funds, Christine Lazaro, Past President of the Public Investors Arbitration Bar Association (PIABA) said.
Wells Fargo Aging Client Services Center of Excellence Head Ronald Lon said there is a need for better data on the abuse to uncover the real story and the amount of dollars lost. He added there should be a better way for financial firms to share data about the abuses.
During the session, AARP Chief Advocacy and Engagement Officer Nancy LeaMond, an Investor Advisory Committee member, said a growing problem with senior financial abuse is efforts to get more seniors online are up, especially with the requirement for web sign up for Covid-19 vaccines but many the elderly are not capable to use the web.