How we reported on elder financial exploitation

Injustice Watch reviewed thousands of pages of records, analyzed previously unpublished federal data, and interviewed more than 50 victims, family members, and experts for our project on elder financial exploitation.

To report our series on elder financial exploitation, Injustice Watch spent four months examining public records and confidential case files, including banking records, medical reports, and previously unpublished government data. Reporters conducted more than 50 interviews with victims, their families, investigators from multiple government agencies, and experts on justice for older adults.

Injustice Watch obtained the state’s case-tracking data through numerous Freedom of Information Act requests filed with the Adult Protective Services division of the Illinois Department on Aging. In addition, reporters obtained access to APS investigative reports on several cases.

Reporters analyzed data on 571,000 reports on elder financial exploitation across the U.S. since 2017 from the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s reporting system on Suspicious Activity Reports. We used U.S. census data to calculate a per-capita rate of financial abuse against older residents in every state for the years 2017-2022.

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FBI data was drawn from the bureau’s annual Elder Fraud Reports, which are filed with the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center. The majority of these reports are for internet financial crimes against older adults, but they also include schemes using unsolicited phone calls, mailings, and face-to-face encounters, according to a spokesperson for the FBI.

Federal and Illinois data was provided by the Federal Trade Commission’s Consumer Sentinel Network, which included more than a million reports of fraud and identity theft against people older than age 60 from 2019 through 2022. There is substantial overlap between the Treasury, the FTC, and FBI data.

Reporters downloaded Chicago police data from the city’s open data portal to identify 3,318 reports since 2001 for two Illinois Uniform Crime Reporting codes involving financial offenses against a victim age 60 or older: Financial Exploitation of Elderly/Disabled (IUCR 1195) and Aggravated Financial Identity Theft (IUCR 1155). The rate of police reports of elder financial exploitation was compared to the number of people age 65 and older in each of Chicago’s 77 community areas.

To examine how the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office prosecutes financial crimes against people older than age 60, we analyzed publicly available data on the 1,000-plus people prosecuted since 2011 for crimes including the financial exploitation of seniors and aggravated identity theft against the elderly. Those defendants were divided into two main groups based on the outcome (or “disposition”) of the charges against them: one in which the defendant pleaded guilty or was found guilty on at least one charge and another in which all charges were listed as “nolle prosequi,” when the state’s attorney’s office declined to prosecute the entire case.

To research the intent of Illinois law governing the role of state officials in enforcement of elder abuse laws, Injustice Watch reviewed more than 1,000 pages of General Assembly transcripts dating to the 1980s, when Illinois established its elder abuse program, as well as law review articles, government reports, and press releases, and interviewed lawmakers and state officials.

To trace connections between 40 people accused of executing sweetheart scams, house repair swindles and violent home break-ins of Chicago seniors, Injustice Watch used criminal court files and other government records to identify people convicted of abuse felonies who lived together in Chicago area homes and apartments during the times the crimes took place.

To examine the case of a Citibank executive who allegedly exploited seniors, Injustice Watch obtained Citi check registers, the employee’s Citi personnel documents, Illinois Department on Aging investigative reports, and film industry investment documents.