How do I report elder fraud?
SAFE strongly encourages Americans to report elder fraud – even if they have not been fooled by or lost money to a scam. There are plenty of reasons to do so. If you report a scam, law enforcement agencies can do a better job at tracking and educating the public about the latest fraudulent schemes. After looking into your complaint, a federal or state agency might choose to sue or even prosecute the perpetrators. In some cases, these agencies may be able to recover stolen money and return it to victims. But where and how, exactly, should you report elder fraud?
Somewhat confusingly, there is no single government agency that handles elder fraud complaints. The best place to start is often the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which keeps tabs on elder fraud trends and often brings lawsuits against the scammers in an attempt to recover ill-gotten gains and return lost money to fraud victims. You can report elder fraud to the FTC here: https://reportfraud.ftc.gov/#/. And you can call them at 1-877-FTC-HELP.
The FBI also plays a role in fighting elder fraud, particularly in cases where the victims are numerous and there is a large amount of money involved. You can contact the FBI at (202) 324-3000 or submit a tip to the FBI at tips.fbi.gov. Recently, the Department of Justice (of which the FBI is a part) created a series of elder fraud strike teams – devoted groups of special agents and prosecutors who tackle some of the biggest scams. Contacting the FBI can help bring your case to the attention of these strike teams. If your scam relates to the internet – for example, if the scam artist contacted you via social media or email – you can also contact the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center directly: ic3.gov.
The FTC and FBI are federal agencies, meaning they have jurisdiction nationwide. But your state and local authorities can be just as helpful, if not more so, in addressing elder fraud committed in your community.
State attorneys general have broad civil and criminal enforcement powers and often have special programs to combat elder fraud. To make a complaint directly to your state attorney general’s consumer affairs division, start with this handy page, which is compiled by the National Association of Attorneys General: https://www.consumerresources.org/file-a-complaint/.
Another way to contact your attorney general’s office is to call its main telephone line. Here is a frequently updated list of all state attorneys general and their contact phone numbers: https://www.naag.org/find-my-ag/. State attorneys general are great clearing houses of information about law enforcement in your state. So even if they cannot help you directly, they are an excellent source of information about who is best to contact in particular cases.
In addition to attorney general’s offices, most states also have a department of consumer affairs – a kind of state-level FTC – responsible for bringing civil lawsuits and regulatory actions against perpetrators of fraud. Depending on your state, the powers of these departments can vary, and not all of them have a well-developed program to address elder fraud issues. Nonetheless, they can be an excellent resource. Here is a page that can help you pinpoint your own state’s version of such a consumer affairs department, complete with contact numbers: https://www.usa.gov/state-consumer.
If you’re thinking to yourself this is a veritable alphabet soup of agencies, you’re right! Many of SAFE’s leadership used to work at these agencies, at both the federal and state level, and we know the complexities of America’s law enforcement landscape can be confusing, and even frustrating, to navigate. Our most candid and practical advice is that you should try to reach out to multiple enforcement agencies to report elder fraud. In particular, be sure to report fraud to at least the FTC and a state agency such as your state attorney general or state department of consumer affairs. Each of these agencies has its own unique role in combating elder fraud, and reporting a scam to several agencies and two levels of government will maximize the chances that your complaint will be handled with the seriousness it deserves.
And finally, this post by no means lists all the agencies that have a stake in fighting elder fraud. For instance, local district attorneys often prosecute elder fraud scams and can be a tremendous help, particularly in cases where an instance of elder fraud includes an element of physical abuse, coercion, or threats. If the fraud involves a registered broker-dealer stealing from his or her client, then the Financial Services Regulatory Authority (FINRA) may be a helpful organization to contact. And if the fraud involves a licensed professional like a lawyer or nurse, then it can also be productive to contact the relevant licensing authority like the state bar or nursing board. Yet even in such cases, the FTC and state attorney general or department of consumer affairs will still be your best starting point.
Remember, these agencies all work for you! Their goal is to make the world a safer and better place for all of us. Report evidence of elder fraud and together we can defeat this scourge!