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Sen. Gillibrand, AG James seek tougher enforcement against senior scams

On Friday, New York State Attorney General Letitia

New York State Attorney General Letitia James and U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand on Friday pushed for passage of the Senior Financial Empowerment Act, a federal bill to help prevent scams and fraud targeting seniors. Credit: Debbie Egan-Chin

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and New York State Attorney General Letitia James joined Nassau County officials Friday to revive a push for a federal bill to help prevent scams and fraud targeting seniors.

Gillibrand and James championed the bill Friday morning at the Bethpage Senior Community Center with Nassau County Executive Laura Curran and State Sen. Kevin Thomas (D-Levittown), saying the legislation would establish a national fraud hotline and provide tools to educate and protect seniors from falling prey to phone and email financial crimes.

"The whole state has been hit extremely hard by senior fraud," Gillibrand said. "The reality is this is something that plagues everyone. During this pandemic, public health and economic anxiety continue to grow. Fraudsters took advantage of more seniors with a wide range of targeted scams."

Gillibrand reintroduced the Senior Financial Empowerment Act, co-sponsored by Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), this week to strengthen enforcement tools, distribute information to seniors and their families on how to protect their money and report fraud scams to police in a national database. The first bill failed in committee in 2018.

She said fraud scams often originate from cartels or international organizations that can make calls or emails almost impossible to trace and authorities are rarely able to recover any lost funds.

Callers frequently pose as banks, the Social Security Administration, officials offering help with credit card debt or utility bills, or grandchildren in need of money or claiming they were arrested and needed bail money.

COVID-19 scams have cost consumers $460 million, Gillibrand said. New Yorkers lose about $1.5 billion annually to elder fraud, Gillibrand said. New York’s most common scam last year was Social Security impersonation, where callers ask for Social Security and personal information to commit identity theft and fraud, according to the U.S. Senate's Special Committee on Aging.

"Our older adults shouldn’t have to worry every time the phone rings or when they receive an email that they are being preyed upon," Gillibrand said.

Both Gillibrand and James said their relatives were victims of senior fraud. James said her mother was defrauded of $20,000 by a woman who claimed she had won a sweepstakes.

James said the rising senior population on Long Island made it urgent to protect the older community, who are still recovering from isolation during the pandemic. She said attorneys general around the country have worked to stop illegal robocalls that prey on seniors.

"These scammers are nothing more than criminals. They’re bottom-feeders," James said.

Many of the scams originate in India and Russia and dupe victims into transferring money by such means as store-bought gift cards or purchasing gaming funds, Gillibrand said. Her bill, she added, would create the infrastructure and collect data to track fraud.

The Nassau County Office of Crime Victim Advocate works with seniors on how to avoid fraud and how to attempt recovering funds. Officials said anyone targeted by financial abuse can call 516-571-1598.

"For those who prey on seniors, there is a special place in hell for them," Curran said. "These seniors are often vulnerable, they often have a lot of shame and embarrassment. There are bad actors who prey on them."

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