Witness: “These scams are rampant. They’re growing in number and in complexity. They run the gamut from sketchy phone and mail solicitations to shady contractors...”
WASHINGTON, DC – The Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing, and Trade, chaired by Rep. Michael C. Burgess M.D. (R-TX), today continued its examination of ways to better protect seniors and ensure their data is safe from bad actors. Certain types of scams are more likely to impact senior citizens, and with more consumers spending increased time online, there is ample data available at the fingertips of criminals around the globe.
#SubCMT Chairman Michael C. Burgess, M.D. (R-TX) and Vice Chairman Leonard Lance (R-NJ)
“While fraud perpetrated by strangers against the elderly is not the only type of abuse against the elderly, it does represent 50 percent of reported cases,” said Burgess. “Even where there is no silver bullet, it is critically important for the subcommittee to understand what government agencies, the media, universities, and private groups are doing to empower seniors to protect themselves from fraud and help them recuperate losses if they are duped by criminals.”
“The consequences are real. And the effects are lasting. When fraudsters trick the elderly into parting with often limited retirement funds, they take more than just money. Many of these schemes also rob victims of their independence, dignity, and self-worth. These are possessions that money can’t buy and that are difficult to reclaim,” added full Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI).
From left to right: Daniel Kaufman, Stacy Canan, and Robert Harris
Tobie Stanger, Senior Editor at Consumer Reports, shared the tragic story of an 86-year-old woman who lost nearly $300,000 of her lift savings due to sweepstakes scam. “These scams are rampant. They’re growing in number and in complexity. They run the gamut from sketchy phone and mail solicitations to shady contractors to dishonest financial advisers. We need to document them better. And seniors need to feel safe about speaking up about their victimization and getting help.” Also of note, Consumer Reports will highlight this issue in its upcoming November issue.
Robert Harris with the Cook County Public Guardian added, “Older women in the United States are twice as likely to be victims of financial exploitation as older men. Most victims are between the ages of 80 and 89, live alone, and need some level of assistance. In other words, the exploiters seek out, find, and prey on the most vulnerable and isolated members of our society.” Harris later suggested that educating seniors to protect themselves online could be beneficial in combating this issue in the long run.
Daniel Kaufman, Deputy Director at the Federal Trade Commission, explained that combating fraud is a critical component of the FTC’s consumer protection mission and highlighted the multi-faceted approach they are taking to protect seniors and consumers. He said, “Certain types of scams are more likely to impact older Americans, such as imposter schemes purporting to provide technical support to ‘fix’ non-existent computer problems or scams relating to health care.”
Stacy Canan, Deputy Assistant Director at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, pointed out the need for solutions to protect seniors because oftentimes they have assets that make them attractive targets of fraudsters but don’t have the tools to know how to spot and avoid frauds and scams. “Congressional leadership and support is critical to implementing a multi-faceted solution to the serious problem of elder financial exploitation,” said Canan.
Charles Wallace, Associate Professor at Michigan Technological University, also highlighted the importance of breaking digital barriers with seniors. “Basic literacy in secure online behavior is an essential weapon in ‘Fighting Fraud against the Elderly,’” said Wallace.
“We in Congress, as well as regulators and law enforcement, owe it to seniors to crack down on this despicable activity and ensure enough is being done to stop the perpetrators,” concluded Upton.
To view an archived webcast of today’s hearing, click here.