By Michelle Karas
In a fitting measure for National Older Americans Month, Vermont Rep. Peter Welch, along with Florida Congressmen Ted Deutch and Vern Buchanan, on Wednesday introduced the Seniors Fraud Prevention Act of 2013
The proposed legislation is intended to empower the Federal Trade Commission to target con artists preying on seniors, according to a press release from Welch's office, and "would target fraudulent investment plans and asset management offers, sweepstakes and charity scams, and telemarketing, mail, and Internet fraud." The bill would create an office within the Federal Trade Commission that would alert consumers to new scams and would connect fraud reports to the appropriate state and local law enforcement agency.
Elder fraud is becoming more prevalent as the overall population ages. According to the Administration on Aging, the older population is defined as those 65 or older, and there will be about 72.1 million Americans that meet that demographic by 2030, representing 19 percent of the population.
Elder fraud -- such as telemarketing scams, fake home repairs, check scams and identity theft -- costs U.S. seniors $3 billion a year, according to a report from UPI.
"Unfortunately, many seniors feel ashamed and embarrassed or do not possess the capacity to report the crimes," said Ann Harkins, president and CEO, National Crime Prevention Council. "And the result is that crimes against seniors are heavily underreported and thus people don't realize how prevalent the crime is."
NCPC's new elder abuse and elder fraud prevention tips and materials were unveiled Thursday at the 19th Annual Older Americans Information and Health Fair sponsored by the Dallas Area Agency on Aging and the Dallas Area Rapid Transit. They can be found at www.AlertID.com/search/.
According to AARP, law enforcement agencies nationwide are reporting an increase in health insurance-related scams across the country. Many seem to be preying on confusion over the massive changes taking place in the nation's health care system. The scammers often target seniors, who are likely to be home to answer the phone during the day and often have retirement savings.
It's important for seniors to know the warning signs and to seek help if they feel they've been wronged. It's also key to realize elder crime happens everywhere, in every state.
"Every day, in Vermont and across this country, vulnerable seniors are being ripped off by scam artists," said Rep. Peter Welch, "It's not uncommon for their victims to lose their life's savings. Our bill would put a federal cop on the beat to alert seniors of fraudulent schemes and help stop these criminals in their tracks."
On Thursday, Vermont Attorney General Bill Sorrell, who joined Welch at a congressional hearing examining the prevalence of scams that bilk seniors out of their savings, said in written testimony, "Citizens in the later years of their life have a right to expect that they will not be at risk from the predations of cross-border and other scammers; and yet financial loss arising from such scams, even the loss of one's life savings, occurs all too often among older people."
AARP offers this advice for seniors or those of any age who get a suspicious call:
Don't answer too quickly. Think about the answer you give them and what they're asking. Never give up and personal or financial information over the phone.
Or you can just hang up.
In any case, The Seniors Fraud Protection Act Sounds like a keeper.