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Senate Hearing to Combat Fraud Targeting Seniors

— February 14, 2017

The Senate Aging Committee has scheduled a hearing on the 15th of February to combat fraud targeting seniors. Chairman and Ranking member Susan Collins and Bob Casey, respectively, made the announcement framed as an update. The Senators and committee are seeking to review the work law enforcement officers are doing across the country to take on scammers preying on elderly Americans.

The Government Accountability Office has estimated that financial fraud targeting older people in the United States costs an estimated $2.9 billion annually. While con artists have long sought to take advantage of seniors, their methods and means of communication have changed considerably since the turn of the century. The advent of the Internet and availability of hard-to-trace mobile phone numbers has been a boon to criminals.

Some of the tactics conmen use to ensnare the elderly are so familiar they’ve practically become online tropes. Most people, no matter their age, doubt they’d be taken in by a stranger making unbelievable promises. From Nigerian princes begging for help with transfers to lottery representatives requesting wire fees, there is no shortage of stories fraudsters weave to seduce the gullible.

Past Senate Committee on Aging regarding financial exploitation of seniors; photo courtesy of US Senate
Past Senate Committee on Aging regarding financial exploitation of seniors; photo courtesy of US Senate

Wednesday’s hearing will bring the Aging Committee up to speed on how local and federal law enforcement agents are combating fraud. At least one victim of an IRS impostor is slated to give testimony. Comprehensive statistics will also be released and discussed for inclusion in the Senate’s anti-fraud online resource for senior citizens.

What Hatch seems to have fallen to is the sort of phone call which many Americans have received over the past two to three years. An individual identifying themselves as an IRS collections specialist will inform their target that they owe hundreds or thousands of dollars in unpaid taxes. Threats of litigation or growing fees are mitigated with the promise of easy payment plans and “credit card is okay.”

The caller usually identifies their intended victim by name. Some prank-call and retaliatory videos uploaded on YouTube suggest that the IRS scammers are part of organized operations based overseas, as they maintain call logs, databases, and management structures.

Another increasingly common con plays on the affection of older people have for their grandchildren. CBS reported in 2014 that an 81-year old woman had sent $18,000 to do a bank account in North Carolina after receiving a call from a man pretending to be her grandson. She had thought the payment was going to a lawyer – the scammer had said he’d broken his nose in a drunken accident and had been arrested for drunk driving. An interview with the criminal responsible said that about one in fifty calls yielded success. On a “good” day, he could earn thousands of dollars through minutes of conversation.

The Senate Aging Committee’s review is part of an ongoing effort to stop the sorts of exploitation directed primarily at the elderly. Unmonitored sales of subscription lists coupled with the diminished cognitive faculties sometimes seen in old age means that senior citizens can be among the most isolated and vulnerable demographics to fast-talking and empathetic thieves.


“Grandparent scam” explained: What you need to know

Indian Police Bust IRS ‘Scam Center’

IRS Warns of Continued Scams, Varied Tactics as the Tax Deadline Nears

Senate Aging Committee to Examine New Developments In Fight Against Senior Fraud

“Stopping Senior Scams: Developments in Financial Fraud Affecting Seniors”

Why Do Elderly Parents Fall For Scams That Seem So Obvious To Us?

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