Remarks before the Investor Advisory Committee
Dec. 2, 2021
Good morning and welcome to the members of the committee and to the public watching on livestream. I am looking forward to both of the panels scheduled today. Before I begin, I want to thank Jennifer Marietta-Westberg and Heidi Stam for their dedication, work and leadership on this Committee. I really appreciate your service and you will be missed. Congratulations to the new officers; we all look forward to working with you.
Regarding the first panel topic, I am interested in your discussions about the regulatory framework covering crypto and digital assets. I have spoken about this topic before, and I expect this segment to be highly viewed, reviewed, and dissected. I hope the public will engage with this committee and with the Commission on what areas need clarity and what questions the Commission should answer in short order for us to carry out our mission.
I am extremely pleased that you will also be discussing the particular challenges that face our older investors. Elder fraud is an issue close to my heart and one that I have encouraged the public and the Commission to consider in greater depth. We see many cases of fraud targeting older investors in our enforcement docket, and they are some of the sadder stories we hear. I also hear a troubling number of anecdotes, from my own parents and from other older adults, who have found themselves in the crosshairs of thieves. This segment of our population are our loved ones, our friends, our teachers and often our heroes and they are frequently targeted because they are seen as more susceptible to fraud because of factors associated with aging. In a time with increased social isolation the amount of elder targeting seems more pronounced and, due to their age, the victims have the least amount of time to recover from a loss. It is sad when anyone is the victim of fraud, but a 30 year old has decades to rebuild savings before retirement; an 80 year old is typically already dependent on whatever she/he has already saved and invested, with little time or opportunity to earn and save again.
There are a number of ideas and recommendations that others have already put forward to help combat elder fraud. A few that I have heard include outreach to make older people aware not only that fraud exists, but what it can look like. One recommendation I’ve heard is to run public service advertisements in newspapers and on television highlighting a “fraud of the week.” These stories would showcase actual frauds, how they were carried out, and how investors can recognize and avoid them. Another intriguing tactic for outreach includes education that encourages older adults to be on the lookout for fraud targeting not themselves, but their elder friends. Unfortunately, the stigma of cognitive decline and the lifestyle changes it can bring often make people unwilling to consider whether they themselves might be suffering some loss of mental faculties. They are less hesitant to consider the possibility that their friends might be experiencing such decline. They may therefore be more open to becoming educated about how judgment can become impaired and how this impairment can make people more vulnerable to criminals when they don’t have to consider whether they may themselves suffer such impairment. I ask one thing, please engage with us on this topic, the best ideas I have heard have come from the public and when regulators talk to each other on ways to combat these nefarious frauds. Please share ideas on how to tackle this problem and know that we are eager to engage on this.
On closing, I am looking forward to the information and insights that will be presented at today’s panels, and commend the Committee for looking deeper into these problems.