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Advisory council proposed to help stop scams

Published January 22. 2019 12:57PM

The phone rings with a voice on the other end informing you that you’ve won a sweepstakes you never even entered. Only catch is that you need to send a large sum of money in order to collect it.

This story ends all too often with someone, usually a senior citizen, out thousands of dollars.

Scams against the elderly population have become commonplace, but proposed legislation from two U.S. senators, including Pennsylvania’s Bob Casey, seeks to put a dent in those statistics.

Casey, along with Jerry Moran of Kansas, introduced the Stop Senior Scams Act to ensure retailers, financial institutions and wire transfer companies have the resources to train employees to help stop financial frauds and scams on seniors.

“Far too many older Americans have been targeted and victimized by scam artists who steal more than $3 billion annually from seniors,” Casey said. “These criminals coerce and threaten legal action against our elder loved ones if ‘payment’ is not made immediately, often through a wire transfer or gift card. The Stop Senior Scams Act is a common-sense proposal that would help stop a payment before it is made so seniors don’t lose one more penny to a fraud or scam.”

The bill would create a federal advisory council to develop educational materials for retailers, financial institutions and wire transfer companies to use to train employees on how to spot and stop financial scams at the point of sale.

In December, Jim Thorpe police said a 76-year-old resident lost $29,000 after she was contacted by a company claiming to be “American Senior Citizen’s Lottery.”

The woman was told that she won the lottery even though she had not entered any lottery or sweepstakes.

The scammers claimed to have $50,000 in a briefcase, and the resident needed to pay an additional $21,000 on top of the $29,000 she had initially given via Western Union.

“The hard part is most of the time the people who are victimized by the scam, that money is lost,” Jim Thorpe Police Chief Joe Schatz said. “We tell people all the time, get off the line as quick as you can if you get a call that seems strange to you. The longer they have you on the line, the more they can rope you in.”

A few months earlier, Jim Thorpe police said, a 66-year-old resident lost $10,000 as part of a similar scam. She received a notice on Facebook Messenger that she won a lottery.

Schatz said people can report any type of suspicious calls or offers and the police department will investigate it and report back if it is indeed a scam.

At an Aging Committee hearing on fighting elder fraud, Erika Flavin of Willow Grove testified about how a financial institution could have prevented her parents from losing more than $80,000 to a scam artist.

“My father spoke to the banker afterward, and the banker admitted that he thought something was going on, but he was not allowed to say anything.” Flavin said. “I disagree vehemently. … While the banker does not have the right to stop my father from taking out his money, banks can be a first line of defense by helping educate anyone about these types of scams.”

Specifically, the advisory council will:

• Collect and develop model educational materials for retailers, financial institutions and wire transfer companies to share with their employees;

• Examine ways that these businesses can use their platform to educate the public on scams;

• Provide additional helpful information to retailers, financial institutions and wire transfer companies as they work to prevent fraud affecting older adults; and

• Publicly report information about the newly created model materials as well as recommendations, dissenting views and findings of the advisory council.

Groups and businesses supporting the legislation include the AARP, Amazon, Best Buy, Consumer Federation of America, Consumers Reports, MoneyGram, National Consumers League, National Retail Federation, Retail Industry Leaders Association, Target, Walmart and Western Union.

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