Preventing Fraud in a Digital Age Conference

March 11th 2011: CARP’s Manager of Community Development, Anthony Quinn, is the lead on our campaign against Fraud and Scams committed against Seniors, and he attended and presented at a conference hosted by the Federal Competition Bureau earlier this week.

Here’s his report from the event.

“Preventing Fraud in a Digital Age” March 7th & 8th, 2011, Ottawa, Canada

I arrived at the conference with the mission of sharing CARP’s general mandate and specific position on fraud against seniors with Government, Business and other NGOs, along with the goal of learning more from other delegates on the latest business, government and policing efforts to combat fraud.

There are over 1 million victims and $10 billion in loses from mass marketing fraud annually in Canada (telephone, internet, email, postal, etc…) with an estimate of over $30 billion per year if we include mortgage fraud, identity theft, financial services frauds, business fraud, etc.

CARP used the opportunity to speak at the break out session, “Preventing Seniors from Online Fraud,” and reiterated our position on Fraud & Elder Abuse. In seniors, many criminals think they’ve found the ultimate target, and it is this pre-meditated effort to prey on a vulnerable group that puts the onus on our justice system to move from emphasis on fraud awareness campaigns, and strengthen enforcement and prosecution of criminal abusers under the umbrella of Elder Abuse.

While seniors are certainly not the only victims of frauds and scams, when a specific group is targeted based on their vulnerability, the law must provide stronger punishments and deterrents:

CARP wants to make it clear that Fraud perpetrated on Seniors is nothing less than Elder Abuse, and should be considered in same criminal capacity as physical, sexual, neglect or emotional abuses committed against Seniors. Elder Abuse cases are notoriously difficult to prosecute and often result in what many see as insufficient deterrence. Part of the problem lies in the legal interpretation of existing criminal offences and part lies in the lack of sufficient investigative support to pursue the prosecutions. High profile media coverage provides some public awareness and education but a more comprehensive approach is needed. CARP is calling for a comprehensive approach to punish the most egregious manifestations of elder abuse but to also prevent the abuse in the first place. Three out of five seniors fear death less than they fear running out of money before they die, according to a study last year by our colleagues at AARP.

I presented CARP’s position calling on the Federal Government to review the criminal law and prosecutorial capacity of the various government departments dealing with fraud specifically, and elder abuse generally; to determine whether more can be done to prevent these crimes.

Anthony Quinn, Manager Community Development, CARP

Based on the current population of 4.6 million Canadians over age 65, there are potentially 460,000 people confronting some type of elder abuse. In ten years, it is estimated that the 65-plus population will grow to 7.9 million, and if nothing is done to reduce the prevalence, some 790,000 will confront elder abuse.

CARP advocates for and supports public education, training of front line workers and social support agencies as well as support expertise to help families care for loved ones facing medical or cognitive challenges at home. Such measures go a long way in preventing elder abuse.

However, the law has an important part to play in embodying societal values – and it must be examined to determine whether the law and the administration of justice have adequately reflected our abhorrence of such behaviour, or has had the desired deterrent effect.

I repeated CARP’s recent action plan on Elder Abuse presented to the Minister of Justice:

• A national Elder Abuse Hot Line – a single point of first contact: widely publicized across the country, with the capacity to re-direct to local service agencies, including law enforcement, and sensitive to diverse cultural and linguistic needs.

• Duty to Report – modeled on child abuse and spousal abuse protocols, bearing in mind that the elder is an adult and this is contingent on there being professional investigative capacity to respond to such reporting.

• Specialized Investigative Support for existing criminal offences.

• Use of the Exacerbated Sentencing Provision currently used for hate crimes in the Criminal Code, but extended to those who prey on vulnerable Seniors.

• A new, Criminal Office of Elder Abuse if warranted following the review.

• Victim Support Services and elder shelters.

While much of the information presented at the conference was encouraging, including the work in the United Kingdom in establishing a National Fraud Authority, with enhanced enforcement and information sharing capabilities – and the efforts of the RCMP to replicate that model in Canada in the near future – it was discouraging to learn that we are still well behind many other jurisdictions in disrupting, preventing, prosecuting and convicting fraudsters.

Fraud is on par with drug trafficking as a source of income for organized crime groups, and deeper investigation using data mapping reveals the nefarious crimes that seemingly harmless scams supplement, including drugs, prostitution, human trafficking and terrorism. However, according to the RCMP, only 1 dollar is spent on fraud enforcement for every 4 dollars spent on drug enforcement – which asks the question, do we have our priorities straight?