Commerce, Manufacturing, and Trade Subcommittee Highlights Efforts to Combat Fraud on America’s Elderly

May 16, 2013

WASHINGTON, DC – The Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing, and Trade, chaired by Rep. Lee Terry (R-NE), today held a hearing on “Fraud on the Elderly: A Growing Concern for a Growing Population.” Members heard from witnesses from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), and Government Accountability Office (GAO) as well as the Attorney General of Vermont on government efforts to combat fraud targeting America’s seniors, including expanded consumer outreach and enforcement.

“The fact is, America’s population is growing older. According to the Census Bureau, from 2000 to 2010 the percentage of Nebraskans over age 65 rose 6.2% and the percentage of those over age 85 jumped by 15.8 percent. This trend is set to continue and accelerate. By 2050, the number of Americans over age 65 is expected to double,” stated Subcommittee Chairman Terry. “The threat of fraud to America’s seniors is real and does not appear to be just small-time crooks. Everything from home equity theft, to letter fraud originating in Nigeria seems to be occurring—clearly, there is no shortage of individuals or perhaps organized crime groups working to trick, abuse and steal from American senior citizens.”

The FTC estimates 25.6 million adults were victims of fraud in 2011. Seniors are an especially attractive target for fraudsters because as a group, they tend to be wealthier and the number of older Americans is growing rapidly. Scams identified by the FTC and other organizations affecting seniors include work from home scams, reverse mortgage fraud schemes, Internet fraud, health care fraud, and prize promotion and lottery scams.

To combat these scams, the FTC recommends increased consumer outreach, education, and collaboration with federal and state authorities. Charles Harwood, Acting Director for the Bureau of Consumer Protection at the FTC testified, “In addition to aggressive law enforcement, education is an equally essential tool in our consumer protection and fraud prevention work. The Commission’s education and outreach program reaches tens of millions of people a year, mostly through our website where consumers can access print, video, and audio information.”

Gail Hillebrand, Associate Director for the Division of Consumer Education and Engagement with the CFPB, highlighted the federal government’s collaborative efforts to prevent fraud stating, “The CFPB participates, along with eleven other federal agencies, in the Congressionally-established Elder Justice Coordinating Council. The Council provides a forum to spotlight the disastrous impact of financial exploitation and catalyze the development of a national prevention strategy. The Council has heard from national experts and is developing a blueprint for coordinated federal action.”

The GAO recently examined this issue and found that the financial exploitation of seniors cost older adults nearly $3 billion in 2010 alone. Kay Brown, Director of Education, Workforce and Income Security at GAO, testified that the federal government has taken some steps but can do more to combat this growing program. She stated, “Elder financial exploitation is a complex, nationwide problem, and combating it effectively requires a concerted, ongoing effort on the part of states and localities. It also requires support and leadership at the federal level. Each of the seven federal agencies we reviewed is working to address this problem in ways that are consistent with its mission. However, preventing and responding to elder financial exploitation also calls for a more cohesive and deliberate national strategy.”

Full Committee Chairman Fred Upton added, “As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. So education can and should be the first line of defense. From the federal government down to media and community organizations, there are plenty of resources available for consumers to stay informed about scams and learn how to protect themselves or their loved ones.”