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Opinion: Scammers praying on seniors need to be stopped

Nearly every week, we receive an e-mail, phone call or letter from an elderly person in Douglas County who has been targeted for some kind of scam.

There’s the “grandmother” scam where a caller poses as a grandson, asking for money to get out of an embarrassing jam.

There’s the foreign lottery winner scam where all the recipient has to do to claim a multi-million dollar prize is to provide banking information.

There’s the deposit scam where some ultra-rich inheritor requests to use a senior’s bank account to temporarily deposit a huge sum of money.

And that’s just the tip of the problem. There are also schemes involving fraudulent investment plans, charity scams, predatory home lenders, telemarketing and mail fraud, accessing assets through undue influence, using fraudulent legal documents, Ponzi schemes and more.

The imaginativeness of these ploys and the greedy resourcefulness of the perpetrators are mind boggling. It causes one to wonder what these scammers could achieve if they would only set their sights on legitimate ways of making money. But, of course, they don’t. They just prey on people’s wishes to strike it rich, their love of family, or their victim’s nature to want to help someone else.

Federal legislation is in the works to give the most vulnerable, senior citizens, some additional protection against such schemers.

Introduced by U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, and Susan Collins, R-Maine, the Seniors Fraud Protection Act would help fight scams designed to strip seniors of their assets by helping seniors, their families, and caregivers identify and avoid fraud schemes; improving the complaint system for seniors involved in fraud schemes; and enhancing the monitoring of the types of schemes and number of seniors targeted. Similar legislation is moving through the House.

“Too often seniors can have their entire life savings snatched up in scams specifically designed to target their assets,” Klobuchar said. “This bill will give seniors and their families the tools they need to avoid scams before they happen, and will also help make sure that when a complaint is filed, it gets into the right hands so it can be addressed swiftly and effectively.”

The bill would establish an advisory office within the Bureau of Consumer Protection that would be responsible for increasing oversight, consumer education, and establishing a complaint tracking system focused on scams that target seniors.

As Collins noted, parents and grandparents worked hard and saved for retirement. “We should do all that we can to coordinate efforts to educate consumers and share information amongst law enforcement stakeholders about these scams targeting our seniors so that we can stop these criminals,” she said.

The legislation would strengthen the complaint system to ensure complaints of fraud are handled quickly by the appropriate law enforcement agencies. The bill would require the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the agency responsible for handling consumer complaints, to coordinate with other agencies to monitor the market for fraud schemes targeting seniors.

In addition, the bill would require the FTC to distribute information materials to seniors, their families, and their caregivers that explains the process for contacting law enforcement authorities in the event that a senior is targeted in a fraud scheme.

The legislation makes sense and would give seniors a broader line of defense against scammers who are becoming more and more devious. — Alexandria Echo Press