Legislation aims to fight fraud that targets elderly
The story that ran in this paper last Sunday on the problem of elder fraud hit close to home for many of us in Wisconsin.
That article, “Anatomy of a scam: How one couple got caught in a sweepstakes fraud ring,” appeared on Page 1D in The Gazette Marketplace section.
Like many of you, I became aware of the seriousness and scope of fraud targeting seniors when I helped my own grandmother in her later years. Around the time that my grandmother turned 90, she asked me to help her sort through her mail and balance her checkbook. First, I was struck by the sheer volume of solicitations she was getting. I was also shocked by how many fly-by-night and “look-alike” charities were writing her monthly. Their pleas for donations looked and sounded legit, but I had my suspicions. So I dug a little deeper.
I was also disturbed by the amount of money my grandmother had been giving to these entities. She believed that those able to do so ought to be as generous as possible to those in need, but she had no way of determining the legitimacy of the groups that were contacting her.
That experience opened my eyes to the very real exploitation of seniors like my grandmother, through mail, telephone, and Internet fraud. Millions of Americans become victims of similar financial exploitation each year—and, as last week’s story showed, it is not just the isolated and lonely who fall prey to these scams.
The daughter of one such victim in Wisconsin came to me seeking help to stop fraudulent calls to her mother. Nina Kurt reported that her elderly mother in Waunakee had been convinced by one caller to write a $3,000 check.
Fortunately, Nina’s mother did not send that check, but the calls continued, some from as far away as Kingston, Jamaica. Nina believes that one aggressive scam artist sold her mother’s phone number to others.
The Coalition of Wisconsin Aging Groups (CWAG) estimates that more than 38,000 seniors in Wisconsin were victims of financial exploitation in 2011. According to the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, the most common category of consumer complaint last year was telemarketing and the fastest-rising category was identity theft, which can involve telephone, mail or Internet fraud.
To help protect our seniors from being bilked by scam artists, I’ve authored legislation that would educate the public, seniors, their families and their caregivers on how to identify and combat fraudulent activity.
In the last session of Congress, the House passed my Senior Financial Empowerment Act, but the Senate did not take it up. There is still time in this Congress to pass this measure and take action to prevent more seniors from becoming victims of fraud. There should be no political game-playing when it comes to protecting seniors from those who would exploit them.
U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, represents Wisconsin’s 2nd Congressional District and is running for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by the retiring Sen. Herb Kohl. Readers can reach her in Washington at 2446 Rayburn H.O.B., Washington, D.C. 20515, phone (202) 225-2906; at 10 E. Doty St. #405, Madison, WI 535703, phone (608) 258-9800; or at her Beloit office, 400 E. Grand Ave. #402, Beloit, WI 53511, phone (608) 362-2800.