Washington, D.C. — The number of calls to the Senate Aging Committee’s Fraud Hotline more than doubled in 2016 – a sign that the Committee’s efforts have increased awareness of schemes targeting older Americans, but also a stark reminder that con artists continue to stop at nothing to rob unsuspecting seniors of their hard-earned money.
During a hearing today focused on financial fraud affecting seniors, the Committee released its updated 2017 Fraud Book, outlining the top ten most commonly reported scams to its toll-free Fraud Hotline (1-855-303-9470) over the past year. Of the 2,282 calls received by the hotline – calls pertaining to the top ten scams featured in the 2017 Fraud Book accounted for more than 90 percent of the complaints.
In videotaped testimony before the Committee, an 81-year-old man from Portland, Maine, described how he became the victim of the top complaint to the hotline, the IRS impersonation scam. Philip Hatch described how he received a call from a fraudster posing as an agent of the Internal Revenue Service who told him he owed back taxes and needed to pay immediately, using iTunes gift cards, or he would be arrested. Believing that the caller was an official government employee, Mr. Hatch, a 23-year Navy veteran, complied and ultimately lost $8,000 to this scam artist.
“Being in the military and working for the government – you know, when the government calls you up, you say ‘aye aye, sir. What do you need? Can I help you?’ Maybe if I hadn’t had that background, I wouldn’t have been so cooperative? But I was mad – upset that I was taken in,” Mr. Hatch said in his testimony.
Timothy Camus, Deputy Inspector General for Investigations at the U.S. Treasury Department, testified that more than 1.8 million Americans have reported receiving calls from individuals impersonating IRS or Treasury Department employees. Those who fell victim to the scam have lost a total of $54 million. According to the Government Accountability Office, financial fraud targeting older Americans is a growing epidemic that costs seniors an estimated $2.9 billion annually.
“As our 2017 Fraud Book makes clear, while we are certainly making progress, far too many victims are still losing money and, often, their retirement savings. Law enforcement, consumer protection, Area Agencies on Aging, AARP, and financial institutions play vital roles, but alert citizens are still our first and best line of defense,” said Senator Collins in her opening statement. “I am proud of the Committee’s work on this crucial issue to help seniors become more aware and more informed, and to put criminals on notice that they will be stopped and brought to justice.”
“In the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, more than one-in-six residents is aged 65 or older,” Senator Casey said in his opening statement. “As a result, I know all too well how vulnerable older Americans can be to fraudsters and scam artists and other abuse. He continued, “That is why enforcement is such a critical part of this discussion. While it may not be easy to track down these increasingly sophisticated scammers and their domestic and international networks and hold them accountable, we must do so for the safety and security of our parents and grandparents. I know that the tireless work of this Committee and the federal agencies here today has helped make progress toward this goal.”
Diane Menio, Executive Director of the Center for Advocacy for the Rights & Interests of the Eldery (CARIE) in Philadelphia said the need to prevent financial exploitation of seniors is imperative. She outlined five areas of focus including; improving education and awareness of an intervention in financial exploitation, using fraud detection technologies, encourage banks and credit unions to offer age-friendly services and report suspicious activity to authorities, and improve support services, including Protective and Legal Services.