Column: Put a stop to seniors fraud
After Peggy Hiestand-Harri's mom retired, she planned to spend her time like a lot of Minnesotans do — with her kids and grandkids. And also like a lot of Minnesotans in their golden years, she got by on a fixed income.
In 2010 Peggy's mom became the target of a telemarketing scam. It started with regular phone calls. The scammers struck up friendly conversations while they methodically collected personal information that they would soon use against her. Her son loved classic cars, so imagine how happy he would be when she sent in the money to claim a classic Mercedes? In a matter of days, the scammers took $47,000 and maxed out her credit cards. She went from having a high credit score to filing for bankruptcy.
Unfortunately Peggy's mom isn't the only senior who's been caught up in this type of scheme. As Hennepin County attorney, I met with Minnesota families who had been affected by these crimes. I saw firsthand the toll that fraud can take on the victims and their families.
And as technology has gotten more sophisticated, the crimes have become more widespread — and more lucrative.
Seniors make up about 14 percent of our state's population. But about 60 percent of all people reporting fraud to the National Fraud Information Center identify as seniors. Telemarketing fraud — like the scheme used to steal from Peggy's mom — has become a $40 billion industry alone. On a weekly basis, about 1,000 tips are being reported to Minnesota's statewide Elder Abuse reporting line. And nearly one-fifth of Minnesotans over 60 years old rely on Social Security as their only source of income.
Our seniors deserve protection from these crimes.
That's why I partnered with Republican Senator Susan Collins on the bipartisan Seniors Fraud Prevention Act, which passed the Senate just last month. Instead of being caught up in red tape, calls for help should move quickly to the right enforcement agency.
My bill would help make that happen, starting with a stronger reporting system within the Federal Trade Commission. The bill would also set up an office within the Bureau of Consumer Protection to advise the FTC on best practices for preventing senior fraud. Since these schemes can be national in scope, the office would be well-positioned to identify patterns around the country and respond appropriately.
We need to be ready to react when these crimes take place, but there are proactive steps that can help prevent fraud altogether. This legislation would direct the FTC to coordinate with other agencies to monitor the market for fraud schemes targeting seniors. Additionally the FTC would be required to distribute educational information with tips on how to identify potential fraudsters and what to do if you believe that you or someone you know has been targeted.
By 2020, Minnesotans over the age of 65 will outnumber children enrolled in public schools. By 2035, Minnesota's population over age 65 will more than double, as will our population 85 and older. We need to send a clear message to would-be fraudsters that they will be caught and punished if they try to prey on people like Peggy's mom. I'll keep fighting to pass my bipartisan bill and make sure that we're doing everything we can to crack down on these crimes and protect Minnesotan seniors.