Wednesday, October 5, 2022
The U.S. Justice Department issued a press release yesterday, announcing the expansion of its Transnational Elder Fraud Strike Force. The Strike Force was organized in 2019, involving the Justice Department's Consumer Protection Bureau, U.S. Attorneys Offices, the FBI, Homeland Security, and -- I was interested to see -- the United States Postal Inspection Service
I've actually worked with the Postal Inspector on an elder fraud case. A woman in her 90s was mailing an unusually fat envelope and asked a friend to give her a ride to a local branch of the post office. The friend, knowing the woman was quite frail when walking unassisted, offered to get the postage, or to accompany her, but the older woman, who the friend thought seemed unsure of herself, declined. The friend thought about this, was alerted by what struck her as unusual behavior, and called the woman's daughter and explained what had just happened.
The daughter had dismissed a home caregiver recently after learning the caregiver was asking her mother for -- and receiving -- two or more "pay checks" per week, as well as asking for additional cash that seemed to disappear in mysterious ways. The daughter went to the post office with a copy of a certified Power of Attorney, granted to her by her mother several years before she was diagnosed with multiple conditions, including cognitive issues, following a stroke. In fact the reason the caregiver had been hired was precisely because the mother was vulnerable and sometimes confused.
The Post Office at first seemed to be reluctant to take action, but the daughter was able to describe the envelope and also to provide the name of the former employee who had already been fully paid for his work, and had signed a receipt to that effect. The Post Office's worker agreed to search, but when the daughter departed, it seemed unlikely any action would be taken. That is, it seemed unlikely until the next day, when a representative of the Postal Inspector set up an appointment. Having identified and been given the daughter/agent's permission to open the envelope, the federal authorities found several hundred dollars in the envelope that was, indeed, addressed to the former worker. The officers interviewed the mother and then went to see the suspect, who claimed it was merely an additional paycheck that was "owed." He claimed the mother was fully supportive of giving him cash, but he was unable to explain the receipt he'd signed, the burner phones he had used to call the woman, nor the many "payments" he'd received in the last 60 days, payments that the daughter had since documented as more than tripling his agreed wage rate during that period.
I'm the daughter; my 90+ mother was the person defrauded. (She has since passed away, so I feel more able to tell this story.) I learned the Postal Service already understood such a fact pattern very well. Even at that time, several years ago, the official investigating the facts told us that similar transactions happened all too often. It is good to see, with this latest press release, that the U.S. Justice Department is coordinating authorities on enhanced fraud prevention and recovery efforts in support of elder justice.
My thanks to Associate Dean for Academic Affairs Amy Gaudion at Penn State Dickinson Law, who shared the Justice Department notice with me, and whose own research focuses on national security and privacy issues.