Senator Collins held a hearing in advance of Veterans Day to raise awareness of efforts to defraud veterans of their savings and the benefits they have earned
More than 75% of veterans have been contacted by con artists
Click HERE for a high-resolution photo
Click HERE to watch Ben Wells’ Opening Remarks.
Washington, D.C.—When Ben Wells of Portland completed his service in the Air Force, he wanted to find a way to give back to his community while applying for doctoral programs. He did not anticipate that he would once again end up on the frontlines, this time in the fight against scams. Thanks to Ben’s quick thinking, an older veteran and his wife avoided being victimized by two con artists seeking to rob them of their hard-earned savings.
Sadly, even those who served our nation in uniform are not safe from ruthless scammers. In fact, according to a 2017 AARP study, fraud complaints filed by veterans have grown substantially in recent years, increasing by 63 percent between 2012 and 2017. Although veterans make up about 8 percent of the population, one-third of the victims of investment fraud identified by a 2016 AARP study were veterans. Veterans are also more likely to lose money to scammers.
To raise awareness about the disproportionate number of scams targeting veterans, U.S. Senator Susan Collins, the Chairman of the Aging Committee, convened a hearing today titled, “Veterans Scams: Protecting Those Who Protected Us.” Senator Collins also led a letter to VA Secretary Wilkie signed by nearly every member of the Aging Committee urging the Department to alert veterans to the risk of scams and seeking information on steps the VA has already taken to protect veterans.
At Senator Collins’ invitation, Ben testified before her Committee about how he helped thwart a scam that targeted a Korean War veteran and his wife who are in their 80s. Ben met the couple as a volunteer for Vet to Vet, a Maine-based nonprofit that matches older, often socially isolated veterans with younger soldiers returning from the battlefield.
After getting to know the couple over the course of several months, the veteran’s wife asked Ben to attend a meeting she had scheduled by responding to an ad for free in-home care for veterans. Two men arrived at her home and claimed that they could provide in-home and respite care that would be covered by the VA Aid and Attendance benefit. They advised her to set up a separate checking account and suggested ways to circumvent the financial means test. Ben expressed his concerns to the veteran and his wife immediately after the two men left and dissuaded them from taking up their offer. He also reported the interaction to Vet to Vet.
“There was thankfully no long-term financial impact on the veteran or his family from this scam,” Ben told the Aging Committee. “I can say that I saw him, and his wife emotionally devastated once I voiced my concern. Remember that he was losing his ability to caretake and ambulate while she, also in her 80s, was his only caretaker. Although I am glad that they did not expose themselves to fraud, it infuriates me that people would falsely offer hope to vulnerable veterans.”
“Ben served our country with distinction, and when he returned home, he continued to serve by volunteering to help his fellow veterans. I commend Ben on his quick intervention that prevented this older veteran and his wife from being victimized by unscrupulous fraudsters,” said Senator Collins. “As Veterans Day approaches, we remember all who served by not just honoring their service through our words, but also by the actions that we take. Veterans and their families have a right to expect that the nation they served will fight to protect them from scammers.”
The hearing also examined efforts to stop veterans scams, including public education and outreach to help veterans and their families identify scams as well as the importance of aggressively prosecuting perpetrators of these scams. Additionally, the Committee delved into the recommendations of an October 2019 Government Accountability Office report on financial exploitation of veterans.
Other witnesses testifying at today’s hearing included:
· LaVerne Foreman, an 82-year-old Air Force and Army veteran from Pennsylvania, described how he was scammed into donating to a fraudulent charity called the “Disabled and Paralyzed Veterans Foundation” after receiving an unsolicited phone call. The US Postal Inspection Service investigated, and DOJ is planning to prosecute the case.
· Dewayne Richardson, a Mississippi District Attorney, discussed his efforts to locate and prosecute a woman who scammed 78 veterans out of more than $2 million in assets through a fraudulent investment company called “Veterans’ Pension Planners of America.” Thanks to his efforts, she is now serving three years in prison.
· Carroll Harris, the Acting Inspector in Charge of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, told the Committee about his agency’s partnership with the AARP to raise awareness about scams targeting veterans through a campaign called “Operation Protect Veterans” and USPIS’s efforts to investigate these scams.
Click HERE to read their testimonies.
Today marked the 24th hearing the Aging Committee has held in the past seven years to examine scams affecting older Americans.