Scams Targeting Seniors Prompt PA Lawmakers To Find Solutions

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While senior scams are decreasing, they are still prevalent and costly, according to panelists who testified before the Pennsylvania Aging and Older Adult Services Committee.

Rep. Meghan Schroeder, a Republican from Central Bucks County, is sponsoring House Bill 1061, which would require the State Attorney General’s Office to notify the state Department of Aging of any investigations and enforcement actions dealing with consumers older than 60.

A group of panelists testified about the scams, telling stories of individuals who lost or almost lost thousands.

A 78-year-old man wired $1.4 million to someone saying he could get a better return if he invested his money with the caller, said Joe Ryan, chief investigator for the Delaware County District Attorney’s Office, which has a unit dedicated to investigating crimes against seniors. Luckily, the man then called his accountant to tell him of the transaction. The accountant called law enforcement and the transaction was stopped.

A common scam is dubbed the “grandparent’s scam” where a caller will pretend to be a grandchild in trouble to get money from the senior citizen, Ryan said. Working with law enforcement officials in other jurisdictions, Ryan’s office was able to intercept one such scam and recover thousands for the victims.

The recent emergence of dating sites marketing to seniors has led to more romance scams, Ryan added. A potential suitor will claim to be sick or stranded and ask for money.

About $2.9 billion is taken from senior victims across the U.S. annually, said Robert Burns, director of the Dauphin County Area Agency on Aging. That’s more money than Pennsylvania spends on higher education or criminal justice, he said.

The Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office received 4,342 complaints about scams in 2018, and nearly half of them were submitted by seniors, said Sarah Frasch, director of the office’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. About 2,800 have been filed this year, indicating the numbers may slightly decrease.

Panelists said education efforts are ongoing to protect seniors from scams. The State Attorney General’s office created a scam alert system that sends messages out at least twice monthly via email and text. The office is also working with the Federal Communications Commission on legislation that would strengthen restrictions on telemarketers and robocalls.

But some of the seniors who fall prey to these scammers are lonely and isolated, the panelists testified. One woman who was victimized repeatedly told Ryan, “Some days it’s better talking to someone than talking to no one.”

Seniors are sometimes afraid to tell family or law enforcement they were victims of fraud for fear they would lose their independence.

“Our seniors are vulnerable and they want to be able to what they do independently,” said Rep. Stephen McCarter, a Democrat from Montgomery County.

Legislators said they would be open to suggestions to strengthen laws that would deter scammers or help senior citizens.

Before the meeting, the committee approved a resolution that recognized Sept. 23 as “National Falls Prevention Awareness Day.”

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