Congress looking for private industry help with stopping senior scams

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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) -- (3/20/2019) - It can be scary.

A call from the Social Security office threatening arrest if you don't give them what they want.

It's nothing more than a common scam aimed at turning seniors into victims by stealing their money or damaging credit.

"There is an epidemic in this country of seniors getting scammed. Pure and simple," said Bob Blancato, the national coordinator of the Elder Justice Coalition.

He said authorities need to fight the epidemic on multiple fronts. He praises the Trump administration for recently arresting more than 200 suspected scam artists.

"(They) had defrauded older adults out of about a half a billion dollars," Blancato said. "They got them all rounded up and they're going to be prosecuted, that's the proper use of resources."

He said the next step is helping seniors avoid the scammers altogether. Congress is getting involved, and Sen. Jerry Moran, a Republican from Kansas, is offering a possible bipartisan solution.

It would bring eight private industries together with the federal government with the hope of helping educate seniors on identifying scams.

"This is a lot about, again, the private sector being willing to help train their employees to spot a scam, so they can warn a senior citizen, 'Do not go down this path. It's not for real,'" Moran said.

The bill calls for two representatives on the advisory council from the retail, gift card, telecommunications, wire-transfer service, senior peer service, consumer advocacy, financial service and prepaid card sectors.

"It puts the right people at the table," Blancato said. "They have a mandate to produce results and you can implement through the use of different agencies to really see improvements."

Georgetown University's Liddy Manson, the director of the Aging Well Hub, said any legislation could threaten to slow down free enterprise, but she supports this.

"I know that many people in the business community may grit their teeth at it," she said. "But this type of legislation, in my mind, probably has more promise to addressing the situation than allowing private enterprise to come up with a solution on their own."

This bill does not include new penalties for scammers or for phone companies.

The FBI says women 60 and older living alone are big targets for phone scammers.
The agency says scams can be offers for free prizes, low-cost health care products or cheap vacations.

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