Fraud is a serious crime, and older adults are often targeted. In 2017 over half of fraud complaints came from adults age 50 and older. These statistics are kept by the Federal Trade Commission, which tracks fraud complaints. Older adults lose at least $3 billion to fraudsters annually.
America’s aging population presents unique challenges for the criminal justice system. These include:
- detecting and prosecuting crimes that result from abuse and neglect,
- deterring frauds and scams aimed at vulnerable older people, and
- fostering partnerships to make communities safer for older people.
FRAUD AND CRIMINAL JUSTICE: Policy
Policymakers should develop and fund programs to make communities safer for residents living in a variety of settings. Those who live alone or are isolated should receive particular attention.
Policymakers should eliminate gaps in and strengthen enforcement of federal and state gun laws. They should also improve training for law enforcement personnel and adult protective services providers, particularly on working with older victims. The gaps relating to possession by juveniles, convicted domestic abusers, and those under domestic violence restraining orders should be eliminated. Training on working with older victims should include techniques to assist victims who are cognitively impaired or in poor physical health, as well as the prevention of crimes most frequently committed against this segment of the population.
The federal government should assist states and local agencies in improving data collection and coordination. They should increase older people’s participation in crime prevention programs. Law enforcement officials should be educated about the unique needs of older people—especially people from historically disadvantaged racial and ethnic groups and people with disabilities—for protection and support after victimization.
States should develop assistance programs for victims of serious crime. Programs to serve victims may be implemented by bills of rights, laws, or constitutional amendments that require certain minimum services and rights for all victims of serious crime.
Services to crime victims should include:
- counseling referrals and related services to help victims cope with the tragedy of the crime;
- information about how the criminal justice system works, including the roles, rights, and obligations of victims, witnesses, and defense and trial counsels;
- court accompaniment and support during trials for those severely traumatized by the crime;
- transportation to court and other proceedings for older adult victims and witnesses, and victims and witnesses with disabilities, as required by their particular circumstances;
- training of hospital staff in collecting and preserving crime evidence, and in the special needs of vulnerable victims;
- intercession with employers and creditors, if required;
- information on major case developments and decisions at all critical proceedings, as well as information on the offender’s status from arrest through release (including the minimum time that those convicted must serve if sentenced to incarceration);
- adequate notice of court appearance dates, scheduling changes, and continuances;
- protections for victims who are threatened or subjected to intimidation; and
- expeditious return of property when no longer needed as evidence.
States should establish and improve victim information systems.
States should require consideration of victim impact statements (oral or written) at critical proceedings such as hearings on bail, charging, sentencing, and parole. These statements should contain information concerning any harm to the victim (financial, social, psychological, and physical), as well as information concerning restitution needs.
States should review criminal codes and procedures for court scheduling, sentencing, and parole to ensure appropriate opportunities for victim participation and consideration of the consequences of violent crimes against vulnerable victims and their special needs.
States should sufficiently fund state victim compensation programs, provide expedited compensation in emergencies, and consider the victim’s age and physical health in deciding on such payments.