The Federal Trade Commission highlighted to Congress its multi-faceted approach to protecting older Americans from fraud in testimony today before the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade.
Testifying on behalf of the agency, Daniel Kaufman, Deputy Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said that in the last two years the agency has focused its law enforcement efforts on combatting technical support and health care related scams. Both of these scams injure older Americans, and fraudsters engaged in these schemes typically fabricate an affiliation with well-known businesses or government agencies to gain consumers’ trust.
The testimony noted the rise in the number of complaints against technical support schemes, reporting that these scams appear to disproportionately affect seniors. From January through August 2015, of the 18,000 people who reported technical support scams and provided their age, 76 percent were over the age of 50, and 56 percent were over the age of 60.
Regarding health care scams, the testimony highlighted how con-artists use false claims of affiliation with the government to trick people into providing their bank account information over the phone and then use that information to take money directly from consumers’ bank accounts.
According to the testimony, all consumers are potential fraud targets, and older Americans are not necessarily defrauded at higher rates than younger consumers. However, the Commission has brought more than 30 cases since 2005 against defendants that have specifically targeted or disproportionately affected older Americans. Frauds that injure older consumers include sweepstakes, prize promotions and lotteries; timeshare sales and re-sales; investments, business opportunities and work-from-home programs; and charitable donations.
The testimony also outlined the FTC’s education and outreach programs that reach tens of millions of people every year. Among them is the recently created “Pass It On” program that provides seniors with information, in English and Spanish, on a variety of scams targeting older consumers. The testimony also noted the agency’s work with the Elder Justice Coordinating Council to help protect seniors, and with the AARP Foundation, whose peer counselors provided fraud-avoidance advice last year to more than a thousand seniors who had filed complaints with the FTC about certain frauds, including lottery, prize promotion, and grandparent scams.
The testimony described the FTC’s law enforcement efforts with other countries to combat cross-border fraud, and its collaboration with criminal law enforcement to achieve a broader impact. It noted that a recent case involving fraud against older Americans resulted in criminal prosecution of the defendants.
The Commission vote approving the testimony and its inclusion in the formal record was 4-0.
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