Guest Opinion: Combatting senior fraud
It all started a few years ago when Duluth native Peggy Heistad Huri's mother received a seemingly innocent phone call asking questions about her family and retirement plan. After gaining her trust, the caller eventually convinced her to max out multiple credit cards, wire money from nearby banks, and even mail $10,000 in cash. In just a few short days, Peggy's mother had been swindled out of $47,000, filed for bankruptcy, and was left with little hope of ever getting her money back. And she is not alone.
Too many older Americans today are being victimized by schemes that are robbing them of their sense of security—and often their entire life's savings. Just last year, one in four seniors contacted by scammers sent them cash. Between 2017 and 2018, money lost to imposter fraud increased from $26 million to $41 million and, as the Federal Trade Commission recently reported, seniors are five times more likely to report losing money from internet scams than non-seniors. The FTC received nearly 143,000 reports of tech support scams last year, including cases where scammers used computer pop-ups to contact seniors, installed spyware to steal their personal information, convinced them to provide remote access to their computers, or even posed as companies such as Microsoft or Apple.
My grandpa was an iron ore miner who used to save his money in a coffee can, and the presence of these lifetime savings are often the reason scammers target seniors. The schemes they use are constantly evolving, including fraudulent investment plans, prizes, sweepstakes, internet fraud, charity scams, predatory home lenders, telemarketing and mail fraud, and Ponzi schemes. These scams aren't just financially devastating to older Americans; they also can have a ripple effect that hurts generations to come. I read about one 82-year-old man with undiagnosed vascular dementia who received a call from someone claiming to be his grandchild and saying he had been arrested in a foreign country and needed money. In just one week, the grandfather had wired more than $100,000.
Our seniors and their families deserve better. We can and must do more to protect our parents and grandparents from scammers who try to cheat them out of their life's savings. That's why I introduced the Seniors Fraud Prevention Act with Senator Susan Collins, which will protect older Americans and make fighting these scams a priority. This bipartisan legislation would require the FTC to coordinate with other agencies to detect these schemes and strengthen the reporting system to ensure that complaints are handled quickly. In addition, the bill would require the FTC to provide seniors, their families, and their caregivers information about how to recognize scams and who to contact if they become a target.
It is time to pass this legislation and ensure that seniors in Minnesota and across America are able to live their later years with dignity, security, and the peace of mind that their hard-earned savings are safe.