Message From The Director
For many years, the experiences of fraud and economic crime victims were not well understood by criminal justice professionals. The Office for Victims of Crime (OVC) recognized that economic crime victims had been largely neglected by many in the criminal justice system. OVC decided to increase service and support to this victim group.
The number of victims of fraud and economic crime is staggering. According to the National Institute of Justice, each year more than 24 million persons become victims of more than 38 million fraud and attempted fraud crimes. Sometimes called white-collar crime, fraud is widespread and growing. One conservative estimate indicates that fraud, in all its forms, cheats victims out of more than $40 billion each year. Advancing technology has created more opportunities for fraud. Computer use leaves everyone vulnerable to fraud, including telemarketing fraud, identity theft, and health care scams.
Over time, professionals in the criminal justice system, including OVC, realized that victims of fraud and victims of violent crime have much in common and share similar needs. Each needs protection from further harm. Each needs information about rights, remedies, the criminal justice process, and legal advocacy. Each needs practical assistance and referrals to people and agencies for help with short- and long-term problems stemming from the crime, such as mental health counseling and financial help. Most importantly, each needs to see justice done and offenders held accountable.
Like violent crime victims, fraud and economic crime victims may suffer psychological and emotional harm and stress-related physical effects in addition to financial damage. Victims may lose their entire life savings and be devastated by the psychological and social impact. In fact, many economic crime victims describe their experience as a "psychological mugging." They feel robbed of their money, their security, their self-esteem, and their dignity. They have lost their faith and trust in a system they believed would protect them and their resources. Like victims of violent crime, economic crime victims may spend years trying to recover from these crimes.
Recognizing the needs of economic crime victims, OVC and other components of the criminal justice system have made efforts to provide more services and resources to this traditionally underserved victim population. OVC's first step, in 1997, was to change the language of its funding guidelines to extend the reach of its Crime Victim Assistance Funds to provide services and support to economic crime victims through State programs. Further, OVC developed and made available Federal programs, model brochures and pamphlets, and demonstration projects designed for use by those helping fraud and economic crime victims. OVC offered these tools for replication nationwide, providing service and support to those assisting economic crime victims.
To ensure development of an effective and sensitive response to the concerns, needs, and issues of economic crime victims, OVC directed its Federal Crime Victims Division (FCVD) to focus special attention on this particular victim group. In April 1998, the Fraud Victimization Focus Group convened to study economic crime issues. This group raised questions and submitted findings that became the basis for the training ideas, promising practices, recommendations, and action plan presented in this bulletin. OVC applauds the fine efforts of this focus group and appreciates its vision and dedication. OVC believes nationwide application of measures based on these findings can help ensure the development and continuation of effective policies, programs, and services to assist economic crime victims.
OVC Bulletin, May 2000, Victims of Fraud and Economic Crime