Every day, criminals target seniors, hoping to scam them out of their savings or Social Security checks. According to the Government Accountability Office, fraudulent schemes cost older Americans an estimated $2.9 billion a year. As a member of the Senate Special Committee on Aging, this is an issue I am particularly concerned about. Recently, our committee released the 2018 Fraud Book, which details the Top 10 scams reported to the committee’s Fraud Hotline last year. In 2017, the hotline received more than 1,400 complaints, showing how widespread this epidemic has become.
Too often, seniors do not know who to turn to for help. Too often, they feel embarrassed to admit that they were tricked, and sometimes, they do not even realize they've been victimized. This exploitation is wrong and must stop, which is why the Senate Aging Committee is focused on combating scams against older Americans.
This week, I would like to highlight legislative measures I have led to help older Nebraskans and seniors throughout the country. The Senior Safe Act and the Spoofing Prevention Act are two pieces of legislation that will confront bad actors taking advantage of our nation’s seniors, causing financial trouble and undue stress.
The Senior Safe Act would extend liability protections for certain individuals who report suspected exploitation of a senior citizen to a regulatory or law-enforcement agency. Provisions from the Senior Safe Act were included in the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act, which the Senate recently passed with my support.
Additionally, fraudulent marketing tactics will often use the telephone as the main way to communicate with victims. In light of this, I joined Senator Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) to introduce the bipartisan Spoofing Prevention Act of 2017. The bill would close existing legal loopholes that allow false caller ID information to be shown on texts, certain IP-enabled voice services, and calls coming from outside the country.
The modernization of telephone technologies unintentionally has made it easier for predators to falsify their calling origins in order to gain sensitive information from millions of unsuspecting Americans, particularly the elderly. Whether it’s calls that deceptively appear to be coming from real institutions or people – a charity, a bank, the IRS, or a family member – older Americans make up a disproportionate number of victims targeted by telephone scams. The Spoofing Prevention Act passed the Senate last August, recently passed Congress, and was signed into law by the president on March 23, 2018.
Consumer education plays a key part in defending against fraud. It is critical for seniors to be aware of their consumer rights and know how to use them. I am also a member of the Senate Commerce Committee, which has oversight of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) – the independent agency tasked with consumer protection. The FTC is a useful resource that provides educational materials on ways to prevent becoming a scamming victim. This information is accessible on the FTC’s Tips & Advice webpage at https://www.consumer.ftc.gov.
Our seniors deserve to be treated with respect and dignity, not deceived and made helpless by criminals and scam artists. Working with policymakers and law enforcement, I am committed to doing everything I can to make sure seniors are safe. In these collaborative efforts, we need to raise awareness and communicate.
If you have information regarding any suspected fraud, take action and please call the Senate Special Committee on Aging’s toll-free fraud hotline at 1-855-303-9470, or contact the committee through its website, located at http://www.aging.senate.gov/fraud-hotline.