Cybersecurity

Senators introduce bill to protect seniors from coronavirus scams

Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) on Thursday introduced legislation to protect senior citizens from coronavirus-related scams.

The Protecting Seniors from Emergency Scams Act would require the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to submit a report to Congress compiling scams directed at seniors during the pandemic, along with suggestions on how to stop the scams.

The FTC would also be required to update its website with more information around how seniors can protect themselves and how to contact law enforcement if the scams are successful.

The bill was introduced following a spike in malicious activity aimed at senior citizens, who are often seen as easy targets for hackers or for scammers using emails, phone calls, or texts.

"We must ensure that seniors are not being taken advantage of during the coronavirus pandemic," Klobuchar said in a statement. "All Americans deserve safety and dignity in their senior years, yet new fraudulent schemes designed to target seniors appear almost daily."

Moran condemned the scammers for "using fear and uncertainty to take advantage of our vulnerable populations."

"We must ensure our seniors are protected, and this bipartisan legislation will help seniors and their caregivers become more informed about financial scams," he added. 

Several prominent groups have endorsed the legislation, including AARP, the Elder Justice Coalition, the American Society on Aging, and the National Adult Protective Services Association.

"It is a tragedy that this legislation is even needed but in communities across our nation we find vulnerable older adults being victimized by heartless scam artists operating during a pandemic," Bob Blancato, the national coordinator for the Elder Justice Coalition, said in a statement. 

He argued that the legislation needed to be "approved as quickly as possible so more older adults are not defrauded and left in a perilous financial state."

Klobuchar and Moran, along with 32 other senators, sent a letter to the FTC in March calling on the agency to step up efforts to educate seniors about COVID-19 scams. 

The senators cited reports that seniors were being targeted by scammers telling them a vaccination was available, or in some cases, individuals showing up at homes trying to trick seniors into disclose their social security numbers or other personal information.

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) put out an alert in April warning that retirees were among the groups being targeted by malicious phishing emails tied to efforts to steal coronavirus relief checks. 

"History has shown that criminals take every opportunity to perpetrate a fraud on unsuspecting victims, especially when a group of people is vulnerable or in a state of need," IRS Criminal Investigation Chief Don Fort said in a statement at the time. 

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