WASHINGTON—A new report from the AARP Fraud Watch Network and FINRA Investor Education Foundation says shifting how our society talks about victims of financial fraud could lead to a much-needed change in how our country responds to this growing crime.
“As a society, we tend to use words that blame fraud victims for the crime they experienced,” said Kathy Stokes, AARP director of fraud prevention programs. “Scam victims also blame themselves, and this combination serves to diminish the perception that these are crimes and that victims deserve justice.”
According to Blame and Shame in the Context of Financial Fraud, words such as “swindled” and “bilked” put the focus on the fraud victims, even unintentionally. Rather than saying a victim was “duped” or “fell for it”—as if the victim were to blame—the focus should be on the criminal and the crime. Saying a perpetrator stole a person’s life savings has a much different connotation than saying a person was duped for $250,000.
“Decreasing victim shame can help give victims the confidence to report these crimes, and also help restore their faith in the ability of the system to help them,” said Gerri Walsh, President of the FINRA Investor Education Foundation. “Increased reporting of these crimes would strengthen public awareness and understanding, and may help prioritize supportive action across financial services, legal, criminal justice and government institutions.”
The report also details drivers of victim blaming: the faceless nature of the crime; a lack of standards and accepted lexicon for discussing financial fraud, including in state and federal legal codes; a lack of resources for fraud prevention and victim services organizations; and a lack of coordination among federal and state agencies (including law enforcement and criminal justice components), financial institutions and other stakeholders.
The AARP Fraud Watch Network is a free resource for all that equips consumers with up-to-date knowledge to spot and avoid scams, and connects those targeted by scams with fraud helpline specialists who provide support and guidance on what to do next. The Fraud Watch Network also advocates at the federal, state and local levels to enact policy changes that protect consumers and enforce laws.
From law enforcement to consumer advocates, the FINRA Foundation has trained thousands to detect, prevent and respond to financial fraud. In addition, the Foundation and its partners are at the forefront of research to better understand the financial frauds committed in the U.S., risk factors and the effectiveness of interventions aimed at protecting consumers. FINRA, the parent organization of the Foundation, also operates a Securities Helpline for Seniors toll free at 844-57-HELPS (844-574-3577) to help investors with concerns about potential fraud or other questions.
The FINRA Foundation and AARP have a long history of collaboration on research and programs that explore and combat financial fraud. Working together, the Foundation and the fraud fighter call centers operated by the AARP Fraud Watch Network have conducted outreach to more than 3.2 million consumers, empowering them to spot, avoid and report financial fraud.
Heart + Mind Strategies facilitated this deep dive into the cultural narrative of fraud victimization.
AARP is the nation’s largest nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to empowering people 50 and older to choose how they live as they age. With a nationwide presence and nearly 38 million members, AARP strengthens communities and advocates for what matters most to families: health security, financial stability and personal fulfillment. AARP also produces the nation's largest circulation publications: AARP The Magazine and AARP Bulletin. To learn more, visit www.aarp.org, www.aarp.org/espanol or follow @AARP, @AARPenEspanol and @AARPadvocates, @AliadosAdelante on social media.
About FINRA Investor Education Foundation
The FINRA Investor Education Foundation supports innovative research and educational projects that give underserved Americans the knowledge, skills and tools to make sound financial decisions throughout life. For more information about FINRA Foundation initiatives, visit https://www.finrafoundation.org.