In testimony before Congress today, the Federal Trade Commission described the current trends relating to fraud affecting older Americans, and how the FTC uses law enforcement and other tools at its disposal to combat these frauds.
Testifying on behalf of the Commission before the Senate Special Committee on Aging, Lois Greisman, Associate Director of the FTC’s Division of Marketing Practices, said certain types of scams are more likely to affect older Americans, such as fraudulent prize promotion schemes. The Commission’s efforts to identify and stop illegal marketing affecting seniors has become increasingly vital as the population of older Americans is growing rapidly, the testimony states.
“To protect seniors, the Commission has implemented a multi-faceted approach that encompasses robust law enforcement, strategic policy initiatives, and vigorous consumer education and outreach,” the testimony states.
The Commission has identified several varieties of fraudulent and deceptive schemes that affect seniors, including: (1) sweepstakes, prize promotions and lotteries, (2) timeshare sales and re-sales, (3) health care products and services, (4) investments, business opportunities and work-from-home programs, (5) technical support services, and (6) charitable donations.
The Commission has filed 45 cases against 163 companies and 121 individuals responsible for billions of illegal robocalls, as well as numerous Do-Not-Call violations, many targeting older Americans, and it has brought 25 cases involving conduct that specifically targeted or disproportionately harmed older adults.
For example, the FTC has aggressively pursued the money transfer services commonly used in scams targeting older Americans. Just two weeks ago, Western Union agreed to historic settlements with the FTC and the Department of Justice. The FTC’s action alleged that despite knowing its service was used by scammers, including some who were using the so-called “grandparent” scam, Western Union failed to take reasonable steps to stop the frauds. As part of the FTC’s case, as well as a deferred prosecution agreement Western Union entered into with the Department of Justice, the company has agreed to pay $586 million to redress victims.
The FTC also has collaborated extensively with criminal and foreign law enforcement agencies to combat fraud, including scams affecting the elderly. Hundreds of fraudsters have faced criminal charges and prison time as a result of FTC prosecution referrals, the testimony states. The Commission, with the Department of Justice, also organizes and participates in a multilateral network of agencies that enforce laws prohibiting mass marketing fraud, which was pivotal in recent enforcement actions to dismantle a global network of mass mailing fraud schemes that allegedly defrauded millions of elderly and vulnerable consumers out of hundreds of millions of dollars. In addition, the Commission partners with multiple foreign agencies to combat cross-border fraud that affects the elderly.
Outside of enforcement, in order to address changes in the marketplace that relate to fraud against older Americans, including rapid developments in both demographics and technology, the FTC uses a variety of policy tools including holding workshops, coordinating with industry, and holding public contests seeking technological innovation.
For example, in 2014, the FTC created Pass It On, an innovative education effort aimed at active, older adults that covers topics such as imposter and health care scams, charity fraud, and identity theft, the testimony states. The Commission seeks to reach older adults where they gather and live: libraries, social and civic clubs, senior centers, adult living communities, and veterans’ facilities. It recently has released a number of new videos to encourage people to talk about the frauds they experience. Since 2014, the FTC has distributed 5.9 million pieces of Pass It On print material in English and Spanish. Committee members or their constituents can post them, link to them, or order printed copies from www.ftc.gov/bulkorder.
The Commission vote approving the testimony and its inclusion in the formal record was 3-0.