Friday, March 16, 2018

Victims from Maine testify at hearing on fraud targeting older Americans

Washington, D.C. - In 2015, Stephen and Rita Shiman of Saco received a phone call that no grandparents would ever want to experience. The caller claimed to be their grandson and said he had been arrested after being involved in a car accident in Georgia.  The caller told the Shimans not to tell anyone and directed them to contact his public defender, who demanded $1,250 for their grandson’s bail.  Wanting to help their grandson, the Shimans immediately sent a money order.  But it turns out, their grandson was never in trouble—he was never even in Georgia. 

Instead, con artists had impersonated their grandson and preyed on their devotion to their family to rob them of their money.

“There is a special bond between grandparents and their grandchildren,” said Mr. Shiman. “The scammers knew this well and took full advantage of it with my wife and myself.   They knew that when a grandchild is in trouble, grandparents go all out to help.  When it comes to these emotional responses, reason goes out the window.”

The Shimans, who testified before the Aging Committee at the invitation of U.S. Senator Susan Collins, are like many older Americans who are targeted by unscrupulous thieves.  Today’s hearing, chaired by Senators Collins and Bob Casey (D-PA) titled “Stopping Senior Scams” updated the public about the committee’s efforts to raise awareness and combat scams targeting older Americans.

According to the Government Accountability Office, financial fraud targeting older Americans is a growing epidemic that costs seniors an estimated $2.9 billion annually.  Seniors often do not report fraud because they do not know where to report it, are too ashamed to admit they have been scammed, or may not even know that they are victims.

“This Committee’s dedication to fighting fraud against older Americans is raising awareness and making a real difference,” said Senator Collins. “I appreciate the Shimans’ willingness to share their story to help alert other seniors so they can avoid becoming victims of these scams.”

“In addition to raising public awareness, we must also crack down on con artists attempting to rob seniors of their hard-earned savings,” Senator Collins continued.  “Just two weeks ago, the Department of Justice announced it charged more than 250 people with stealing more than a half billion dollars from more than a million Americans.  This law enforcement action, the largest-ever coordinated sweep of senior fraud cases, marks an important step forward in our efforts to protect older Americans.”

“We know that fraudsters use technology to target older people but, increasingly, we're seeing people of all ages affected," said AARP CEO Jo Ann Jenkins. “This bipartisan effort to prevent senior scams is an important step in the ongoing battle to protect Americans of all ages from fraud. AARP thanks the Senate Aging Committee, especially Senators Collins and Casey, for their excellent work focusing on this crucial issue.”

The Committee also officially released its 2018 Fraud Book at the hearing detailing the Top 10 scams reported to the committee’s Fraud Hotline last year. In 2017, the Committee’s Fraud Hotline received more than 1,400 complaints of frauds targeting seniors around the country, including more than 520 in Maine, demonstrating the extent of this epidemic.

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