McCaskill: Seniors Need Advocate at Federal Trade Commission
Co-sponsors FTC Reauthorization to enhance consumer protections
In the same week that U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill passed legislation to help protect seniors from reverse mortgage abuse, the Missouri senator emphasized the need to be more vigilant in safeguarding the elderly population by establishing a senior advocate position within the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the agency tasked with protecting consumers from unfair or deceptive practices. At a Senate Commerce Committee hearing held Tuesday to address the upcoming reauthorization of the FTC, McCaskill cited predatory practices in the reverse mortgage industry, Craftmatic beds, and recent telemarketing scams targeting the elderly to illustrate the need for more oversight and action from the federal government to crack down on those who take advantage of senior citizens.
"I think we need a senior advocate within the FTC that will corral the many different examples of where the elderly are being victimized by unfair and fraudulent trade practices," McCaskill said at the hearing Tuesday. "If we're going to prioritize our resources and prioritize what the FTC is doing, I could make a strong argument that that prioritization should begin with the bilking of the elderly and practices that are used against a vulnerable population."
A senior advocate within the FTC would be dedicated to advocating for seniors within the Commission and coordinating education programs to keep seniors for falling prey to dangerous marketing practices. McCaskill's plans to create the position were prompted by recent work she has done related to the marketing of reverse mortgages and Craftmatic Adjustable Beds.
McCaskill saw how some reverse mortgage salespeople and companies are taking advantage of elderly people when she chaired a hearing late last year to take a closer look at aggressive marketing within the reverse mortgage industry. Reverse mortgages, available only to seniors, allow people to transfer equity on their home into a monthly income. Although it is a helpful financial tool for some, it frequently is an expensive decision that potentially could jeopardize a person's finances. And because many seniors have few assets beyond the equity in their home, it's especially important to protect seniors from predatory tactics that potentially could leave them penniless.
Craftmatic Adjustable Beds has recently come under fire for aggressive marketing of their product, which cost seniors thousand of dollars. In one instance, a Craftmatic salesperson had a blind, elderly man sign a contract that he physically was unable to read. McCaskill sent a letter to the FTC earlier this year asking for an investigation of the company's sales practices.
McCaskill said she would begin to look at ways to establish the senior advocate position through legislation. In the meantime, McCaskill this week signed on as a co-sponsor of the FTC Reauthorization bill which will re-establish laws related to the agency through 2015 and help improve consumer protections over the next few years by strengthening their rule-making authority and give them greater ability to collect civil penalties for violations.
"We have an opportunity in the FTC Reauthorization to make some real changes that will help protect consumers moving forward, especially our seniors," McCaskill said. "It's time to have a voice within the agency dedicated solely to safeguarding those most vulnerable to unfair practices."