The Crime of the 21st Century
By John Schwartz, the Founder and President of The Center for Combating Elder Financial Abuse
The Center For Combating Elder Financial Abuse (Center) describes elder financial abuse as a low-probability, high-impact crime. What is meant by this statement is that the chances are low that an elderly person will become a victim of a financial predator. However, it also means that if a predator gains financial control of an elderly person, the results could be devastating, and entire life savings can be stolen. One of the most effective “attack vectors” financial predators use against vulnerable seniors is the fraudulent investment and Ponzi scheme. The Center has researched numerous predators who have used this attack vector effectively against the elderly and a few of these convicted predators are below.
• Wiliam Neil “Doc” Gallagher, age 80 at the time of his sentencing in 2021, stole over $32 million through a Ponzi scheme. Gallagher called himself the “Money Doctor” on Christian radio shows.
• Kent Maerki, age 78 at the time of his sentencing in 2021, was a part of a criminal enterprise consisting of at least 10 co-conspirators. This enterprise conducted a nationwide investment fraud scheme that stole over $23 million.
• Steven Pagartanis, age 60 at the time of his sentencing in 2020, conducted a Ponzi scheme that netted over $13 million.
• Roger Williams, age 52 at the time of his sentencing in 2018, was a church pastor who solicited funds for an “investment club” and also church bonds. Williams stole over $1.3 million from investors.
We chose these examples to illustrate that these fraudulent investment predators hide “in plain sight” and they possess the necessary skills to successfully steal up to tens of millions of dollars. These examples also illustrate that some of these predators are elderly citizens that prey upon their peers.
So, how do elderly citizens avoid being snared by an investment predator? The Center offers the following five tips.
1. Consider conducting investments with trusted, national-level, financial service firms.
2. Be cautious of individuals who promise consistent positive return rates on your investments.
3. Be on the look-out for investment companies that require a “large” portfolio of hundreds of thousands of dollars in order to “qualify” for their program.
4. Conduct a self-assessment on your understanding of investments. Are you confident in your ability, experience, and understanding of investments? Be honest and if your confidence is low, consider seeking out training programs to increase your “financial savvy”. Also, conduct a self-assessment because predators conduct their own assessment on you.
5. Finally, and most importantly, trust your “gut feeling”. Each of us has been given a natural instinct to sense “danger” and avoid dangerous situations. If a situation does not feel right, slow down. Take the time to consider other options. And never forget one option that is always available - just stop.
Elder financial abuse is a low probability, high impact crime. Elderly citizens should not live in fear of financial predators, rather they should enjoy their “golden years”. An understanding of basic predator tactics and possessing fundamental knowledge of investing should help elderly citizens protect their life savings and enjoy a happy retirement! For more information about The Center, visit their website HERE and/or view their facebook page HERE.
About John Schwartz: John is a retired Special Agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) with over 24 years of service. The Center will use John's expertise to help develop strategies to protect our nation's elders from financial abuse.