Passing the Seniors Fraud Prevention Act will help protect elderly from criminals
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Every day thousands of seniors fall victim to fraud. Some may only lose a small amount, but far too many seniors lose their entire life’s savings to these criminal schemes.

This has been an unimaginably difficult year for all of us, including our seniors who are especially vulnerable to the deadly coronavirus. Seniors also have suffered greatly from some of the virus’s crippling indirect impacts such as loneliness and isolation. Unfortunately, criminals haven’t taken any time off during these trying times. In fact, scammers are taking advantage of the situation by preying on seniors to profit from the pandemic.

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Even before the pandemic began, fraudsters have increasingly targeted seniors, with these scams continuing to rise. Nearly 1 in 5 Americans over the age of 65 have “been taken advantage of financially in terms of an inappropriate investment, unreasonably high fees for financial services, or outright fraud,” according to a survey from the Investor Protection Trust. But now as the AARP has warned, scammers are inventing new and dangerous ways to trick seniors out of thousands of their hard-earned dollars. Stimulus checks, unemployment and other government assistance have been enticing targets for criminals during the pandemic.

Compounding the seriousness of the problem is the fact that the over-65 population is expected to grow to 20 percent of the total U.S. population by 2050, and that “financial abuse is expected to rise in tandem,” according to a New York Times report.

Protecting seniors should be a bipartisan priority important to all of us.

Earlier this Congress, I introduced the Seniors Fraud Prevention Act with my Florida colleague Rep. Ted DeutchTheodore (Ted) Eliot DeutchHouse Democrats introduce measures to oppose Trump's bomb sale to Saudis House Judiciary Democrats ask Pence to invoke 25th Amendment to remove Trump This week: Congress poised to buy more time on spending, coronavirus talks MORE (D) to help tackle this growing problem. Our bill will help educate seniors about these scams and assist law enforcement in their efforts to track down and prosecute scammers. The legislation was also endorsed by the AARP, which has repeatedly warned seniors of the dangers of fraud.

Specifically, the bill would create an office within the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) dedicated to tracking ongoing scams and making sure seniors are informed about how these scams work and how they can protect themselves. The bill also requires the office to create a new fraud complaint system that will ensure that reports are quickly forwarded to the appropriate law enforcement entity. Together these requirements will help prevent seniors from getting scammed and hold criminals accountable.

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Some scams are not new and have been used for years to separate seniors from their money. The FBI has warned that millions fall victim to some type of financial fraud or confidence scheme every year including lottery, sweepstakes and Ponzi schemes. Scammers use physical mail, email, phone calls and ever increasingly the internet to trick and deceive vulnerable seniors. One estimate found that seniors lose more than $35 billion annually due to fraud.

Floridians know all too well the devastating effects that these frauds can cause with thousands falling victim to Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme more than a decade ago. Many of these victims are still dealing with the consequences of this massive fraud.

With more than 5 million seniors in Florida and 225,000 in my district alone, protecting them from harm is one of my top priorities.

Seniors have worked their entire lives with the promise of a safe and secure retirement. Scams targeting the elderly threaten more than retirement accounts — they imperil the independence and trust of an already vulnerable community.

The Seniors Fraud Prevention Act has passed the U.S. House and a similar version has now passed the U.S. Senate. I will continue my efforts to get this important bill signed into law before the end of the year. This bill will be a big step forward to protecting seniors and combating fraud. Our seniors depend on us to protect them and their well-deserved savings.

 

Buchanan represents Florida’s 16th District. He is a senior member of the House Ways and Means Committee and is the co-chair of the 29-member Florida congressional delegation.