A call from someone posing as a distressed grandchild needing emergency cash. An unannounced visit from men claiming they can repave a driveway at a discount. An email from a stranger who asks to be a penpal, then asks for money.
All are scams, and all have been effective at bilking seniors out of thousands of dollars, a group of elder-fraud experts told a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on Thursday.
More than 25 million adults, many 65 and older, were victims of fraud in 2011, according to the Federal Trade Commission. The Government Accountability Office, Congress’ watchdog, estimates that “financial exploitation” cost seniors $3 billion in 2010.
Experts say the true numbers are underreported because the elderly are especially embarrassed to report they’ve been victimized. Those living alone and suffering from dementia can be easy prey, they said.
The problem is expected to get worse thanks to technological advances that have made reaching — and scamming — vulnerable seniors much easier, said Kay Brown, director of Education, Workforce, and Income Security for the GAO. She said it demands a national strategy that encourages cooperation and training among federal, state and local authorities, and an aggressive education campaign for seniors, she said.
There are signs of action:
• The Elder Justice Coordinating Council, a group of high-ranking officials from various federal agencies, is working to come up with ways to improve coordination to combat elder fraud.
• Lawmakers from Vermont and Florida this week introduced a bipartisan bill that would start an office at the Federal Trade Commission to alert consumers to new scams and ensure that fraud complaints “are quickly connected to the appropriate state and local law enforcement agency.”
• Officials in Jamaica promised Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., and Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, last month that they will extradite scammers who use the false promise of lottery winnings to cheat seniors out of their savings.
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Exploitation of Seniors Costs Them $3B a Year