To provide feedback on the Community Policing Dispatch, e-mail the editorial board at CPDispatch@usdoj.gov.
U.S. Department of Justice
Office of Community Oriented Policing Services
In a scene that could be played out hundreds of times a day across the nation, Sublette County (Wyoming) Sheriff’s Detective Travis Lanning got a call that an elderly lady had been scammed by an unknown caller for $10,000.
With Det. Lanning’s help, as well as the intercession of her family and her bank, this individual got most of her money back. But many—probably most—victims do not.
It is hard to know how many people are swindled because these incidents often go unreported because the victim is either embarrassed or unable to remember what happened. But it is estimated that as much as $2.6 to $36.5 billion is stolen from the elderly through financial fraud every year.1
Though banks and other businesses may be on to the swindlers and do what they can to prevent or intervene in these crimes, the investigative and prosecutorial work is up to law enforcement.
And in the case of small agencies such as the Sublette County Sheriff’s Office, detectives may be unprepared to tackle complex financial crimes committed by invisible perpetrators preying on victims who often do not understand or recall what happened.
Said Det. Lanning, “Through the investigation, I learned that the scammer told her that she won a Publishers Clearing House prize but had to pay a large sum to collect it. She was also contacted by someone claiming to be Dish TV, who convinced her to send a couple of signed blank checks in order to upgrade her plan.
“After her bank accounts and phone numbers were changed, she received a cell phone in the mail with the scammer’s number programed into it and a note telling her to call it. This is when I got involved.
“I soon realized that a lot of people in our county were being targeted. And I wanted to get up to speed on this kind of crime. Our department is small and none of the four detectives in our investigative unit, including me, had this kind of specialized training.
“I saw online that NW3C (the National White Collar Crime Center) offered training in financial crimes against the elderly, and since it was online, it fit my schedule as well as my needs. So I signed up for it.”
A nonprofit organization comprising state, local, federal, and tribal law enforcement and prosecutorial and regulatory agencies, NW3C supports efforts to prevent, investigate, and prosecute economic and high-tech crime. To this end, it delivers training in computer forensics, cyber and financial crime investigations, and intelligence analysis.
The mainstay of NW3C’s training in elder financial abuse is a program called Financial Crimes Against Seniors, which teaches a multidisciplinary approach to dealing with this type of crime and covers topics such as investigative skills and interviewing victims and suspects and also includes an interactive case study.
The NWC3 training that Det. Lanning took is based on the Elder Abuse Guide for Law Enforcement (EAGLE). Developed by the University of Southern California’s National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA) and funded by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) and Office of Victims of Crime (OVC), it’s free of charge to state, local, and tribal law enforcement.
Designed to support law enforcement officers in identifying, intervening, and resolving elder abuse situations, EAGLE provides tools for assisting in documenting a case for prosecution, a ZIP code–based community resources locator, and a state-by-state guide to penal codes related to the emotional, physical, and financial abuse of the elderly.
“In a small department, it’s hard to get trained in every area of crime, but I got the information I needed from NW3C,” said Det. Lanning. “The program was very informative. But the biggest takeaway was how important it is to educate the public, not just the elderly or others who might be victims but [also] their friends, families, [and] neighbors.”
The EAGLE program provided a lot of resources for accomplishing this, including pamphlets and other materials, which Det. Lanning shared with Sergeant Travis Bingham, the Public Information Officer of the Sublette County Sheriff’s Office.
“I already knew we had a problem with scams in the community and welcomed his help,” said Sgt. Bingham. “The detention center was also getting calls from elderly people looking for grandkids who scammers have told them are in jail, asking the grandparents for money to bond the kids out.”
Creating an even more challenging situation, the Wyoming Department of Health (WDH) mistakenly released 25 percent of the department’s contact list in April. So the names and phone numbers of more than 164,000 Wyoming residents became public, giving scammers enough information to sound legitimate.
Soon, con artists posing as WDH officials began calling people asking for insurance or other financial information they claimed was necessary because of the breach. In some cases, they were even able to make their calls appear to be coming from government phone numbers.
To inform Sublette County residents about the growing threat from swindlers preying upon the elderly, Sgt. Bingham started an awareness campaign supported by local newspapers, the Pinedale radio station (KPIN), and social media. He also publicized the presentations on financial fraud of seniors given by Jane Carlson, a specialist with Wyoming’s Department of Adult Protection Services, in both of the county’s senior centers.
“We saw a lot of interest in this from young as well as older people, who wanted to warn their loved ones about these problems,” said Det. Lanning. “And now we’re getting a lot of calls to report attempts at fraud. People are more aware now, and we think that can be attributed to our efforts.”
Faye C. Elkins
Sr. Technical Writer
1 NCOA National Council on Aging, “Get the Facts on Elder Abuse,” last modified February 23, 2021, https://www.ncoa.org/article/get-the-facts-on-elder-abuse.
To sign up for monthly updates or to access your subscriber preferences, please enter your email address in the Subscribe box.