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Report Suggests Fraud Descriptions Need a Makeover

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Friday, September 9, 2022   

Changing how people talk about victims of financial fraud could lead to a shift in how Minnesota and the nation respond to this growing sector of criminal activity.

Amy Nofziger, director of fraud-victim support for the AARP Fraud Watch Network, which teamed up with the FINRA Investor Education Foundation on a new report, said most people who experience fraud already are beating themselves up.

"Instead of using words like 'duped' or 'fell for it,' we need to put the blame on the criminal," she said. "That money was stolen from that person. They were a victim of this crime."

The report's recommendations for media outlets, law enforcement, banks and others is to avoid language that subtly blames victims, because it downplays the severity of the crime and makes it harder to understand the actual scope of the problem.

Victims of fraud can contact the AARP Fraud Watch Network Helpline at 877-908-3360.

Marti DeLiema, an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota School of Social Work, has done research on fraud and agreed that the broader public should reconsider the terms often used to describe these cases. She said while victims often are shamed into hiding what happened, the perpetrators are sometimes glamorized.

"We love the story of a good con man," she said. "Movies like 'Catch Me If You Can' were enormously popular. We don't kind of treat them with the same disfavor as we do perpetrators of physical or sexual assaults."

DeLiema said there's also a myth that fraud victims might not experience as much trauma as victims of other crimes. But she said that isn't the case - noting some express depression, anxiety and thoughts of suicide. The Federal Trade Commission has estimated the cost of financial fraud reached nearly $6 billion in 2021.

Disclosure: AARP Minnesota contributes to our fund for reporting on Budget Policy & Priorities, Consumer Issues, Health Issues, Senior Issues. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.


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