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Report Urges Shifting Blame from Fraud Victim to Perpetrator


Wednesday, August 17, 2022   

Changing how we talk about victims of financial fraud could lead to a shift in how Nebraska and the nation respond to this growing sector of criminal activity.

Amy Nofziger, director of fraud-victim support for the AARP Fraud Watch Network, which teamed up with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority Investor Education Foundation on a new study, said most people who experience fraud already are beating themselves up.

"Instead of using words like 'duped' or 'fell for it,' we need to put the blame on the criminal," Nofziger asserted. "Money was stolen from that person. They were a victim of this crime."

The report's recommendation for media outlets, law enforcement, banks and others is to avoid language subtly blaming victims, because it downplays the severity of the crime and makes it harder to understand the actual scope of the problem. Victims of fraud can contact the AARP Fraud Watch Network Helpline at 877-908-3360.

The Federal Trade Commission estimates the cost of financial fraud reached nearly $6 billion in 2021.

Ryan Sothan, outreach coordinator for the Nebraska Attorney General's Office, said the real costs are likely much higher because many victims are too ashamed to come forward. He pointed to a 2011 landmark study conducted in New York State on various forms of elder abuse.

"The incurred rate of fraud -- once anonymity was guaranteed, and they told us what was really going on in their lives -- the incurred rate of fraud is about 24 times greater than the reported rate," Sothan reported. "We have a severe problem of underreporting."

Isolation among older adults is a major contributing factor to being ripped off by expert scammers. Sothan encouraged anyone who gets phone calls, texts or emails urging immediate action, such as to help a grandchild who needs cash, to avoid prison by sending money to pay overdue taxes, and other requests for fast money to step back, take a deep breath, and do one thing.

"We want those people that have a question or doubt to at least tell one other person," Sothan recommended. "A family member, friend, neighbor, and get their input, to put heads together to determine fact from fiction."

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