Break the Circle of Silence

By Secretary of State Elaine F. Marshall

Just a few weeks ago, we marked World Elder Abuse Awareness Day as well as Elder Abuse Awareness Month. It is so important to take this time to shine a light on the damage done by elder abuse, including the financial exploitation of seniors.

Financial abuse is one of the most common forms of elder abuse, estimated to cost seniors across the country as much as $36 billion a year. The Secretary of State’s Securities Division steps in where financial abuse takes the form of investment fraud. We protect North Carolina’s investing public through registration, regulation and education. We take our role in protecting North Carolina’s seniors from investment fraud very seriously, and we know that we are constantly fighting an uphill battle. North Carolina is a destination state for retirees, and as more Baby Boomers hit retirement age our state is becoming a bigger target for scam artists.

We estimate that about half our securities enforcement actions involve fraud targeting seniors. There are many reasons for that, from issues like cognitive decline and social isolation to the number one reason: Seniors typically have more savings in the bank. Despite that, studies indicate that for every documented case of a senior being targeted by a scam artist, another 44 cases never get reported at all.

The first step to spotting and stopping fraud is breaking the circles of silence that con artists try to build around their scams. Every one of us can be part of that step simply by having conversations. It is never a bad time to remind people that if an investment deal sounds too good to be true – it probably is.

If you see something suspicious, please do not hesitate to call our North Carolina Investor Hotline at 800-688-4507. The sooner we hear about a possible investment scam, the sooner we can try to stop the damage. Our Securities Division staff can tell you if the person making an investment offering is registered to sell securities in North Carolina. Plus—and this is major—we can tell you if the investment offering itself is registered. If the answer to either of those questions is “no,” put your hand on your wallet and walk away.

We also have a great investor education team that holds community workshops to give North Carolinians the tools they need to recognize the signs of fraud and report it. In addition, we email out an electronic newsletter with information the investing public needs to know.

Information and a healthy sense of skepticism are essential defenses against fraud, so always ask before you invest. Don’t hesitate to ask questions if you have a friend, a family member or a neighbor that you believe is being targeted by a scam artist— make no mistake—these are criminals that need to be held accountable.