Interview with Attorney General Brian Frosh

1.  Why is protecting older Americans from financial exploitation important to you and your organization?

It’s sad to say, but many seniors and vulnerable adults (individuals who lack the physical or mental capacity to provide for their own daily needs) are targets of a multitude of crimes, including financial exploitation—the illegal or improper use of another person’s resources for personal profit.

Many victims of financial exploitation are targeted not only by con artists who are strangers, but also by people they know—paid caregivers, financial advisors, accountants, attorneys, neighbors, or even close relatives.

In addition to financial exploitation, older Americans are often targeted by scammers and fraudsters who are either trying to steal money or personal information. While statistics show that these criminals tend to be more successful in scamming younger Americans, when older Americans are targeted, they lose more money. This can be devastating. Seniors can lose their life savings to a scam, and it may be difficult or impossible to recoup that money.

The Office of Attorney General works to help individuals avoid becoming victims of financial exploitation and scams, but also investigates and prosecutes those who have committed these crimes.

2.  What is your office doing to support the mission of PROTECT Week?

The Attorney General’s office works year-round to protect seniors and vulnerable adults from financial crimes and to pursue those who commit these crimes.

Our Consumer Protection Division pursues asset recovery on behalf of financially exploited senior citizens (aged 68 or older) and vulnerable adults by bringing a civil action for damages on their behalf against persons who financially exploited them by way of deception, intimidation, or undue influence. This division also produces and disseminates educational resources for the public to combat telemarketing, investment and sweepstakes fraud, and our recently updated guide to nursing home care includes information about understanding and protecting residents’ rights.

In Maryland, it’s a crime to abuse or neglect a vulnerable adult. The Medicaid Fraud Control Unit of the Attorney General’s office investigates and prosecutes incidents of abuse or neglect of vulnerable adults, and prosecutes those who steal from the Medicaid program. This unit prosecutes dozens of cases of patient abuse in nursing home facilities each year, ranging from sexual assault to neglect resulting in injury and even death. The office also provides education and training to help family members and providers spot abuse and collaborates with the Consumer Protection Division to help Marylanders avoid Medicaid scams, such as the recent “DNA testing” scam.

The Attorney General’s office also participates in Project SAFE (Stop Adult Financial Exploitation), a public-private partnership that provides training in detecting and reporting cases of financial exploitation. You can find more information about Project SAFE on their website.

3.  Do you have any first or secondhand experience with financial exploitation that motivates you to participate in PROTECT Week?

In addition to conducting the legal business of the state, the Attorney General’s office enforces Maryland’s antitrust, securities, and consumer protection laws and prosecutes those who break them. The Office has successfully prosecuted hundreds of individuals and businesses targeting seniors. Our agency provides important information and resources to Marylanders to help educate and prevent them from becoming victims of fraud or abuse.

4.  Do you have tips you want to share to help older Americans protect themselves from financial abuse?

We encourage anyone who wants to learn more about protecting themselves, or loved ones, from financial exploitation to explore our online resources. Our publications Is Your Money Safe? Protect Yourself Against Financial Exploitation and Protect Your Money: Don’t Become a Victim of Financial Exploitation are particularly informative about this topic.

There are some simple tips individuals can take now to help protect their money:

  • Use direct deposit for checks;
  • Don’t sign blank checks that allow another person to fill in the amount;
  • Don’t leave money or valuables in plain view or discuss their location with others;
  • Be aware of scams—if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is;
  • Cancel unused ATM cards and don’t share Personal Identification Numbers with anyone; and
  • Check bank statements carefully for unauthorized withdrawals.

Social isolation increases an older adult’s risk of becoming a victim of abuse or exploitation. During the current COVID-19 pandemic and health crisis, most public gatherings and social programs have been put on hold. It has become increasingly difficult to engage face-to-face with other people, but we encourage everyone to check in and stay connected with older family members and friends, through phone calls, video chat, or social media. Reduced isolation could help a loved one avoid becoming a victim of financial exploitation.

To report suspected financial exploitation of a vulnerable adult, call the Maryland Department of Human Services at 1-800-332-6347. The department will contact Adult Protective Services in the appropriate county, which will investigate. These calls can be made anonymously. The Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division will also take calls of suspected abuse at 410-528-8662.