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Older Americans lose an estimated $2.9 billion per year to financial scams.
The House of Representatives is moving forward with an initiative aimed at helping stem those losses.
On Wednesday, the chamber passed the Empowering States to Protect Seniors from Bad Actors Act by a vote of 371-48.
The bipartisan measure will enable the Securities and Exchange Commission to help state enforcement agencies and task forces protect and educate seniors through the creation of a new Senior Investor Protection Grant Program.
The bill would authorize $10 million each year so regulators can hire additional investigative staff and improve technology, training and equipment. In addition, money would also be devoted to educating seniors about financial scams.
Bipartisan companion legislation was proposed in the Senate in January by Sens. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md.; Tim Scott, R-S.C.; Raphael Warnock, D-Ga.; and Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo.
Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., who sponsored the House bill, said on floor on Wednesday that he had had personal experience with these scams when his own mother was targeted by a purported IRS agent.
“Luckily, we figured out and stopped that ‘IRS agent’ in his tracks,” Gottheimer said of the fraudulent actor. “But how many others paid?”
While records show about 7 million Americans were the victims of financial exploitation last year, other estimates show just 1 in 24 cases of elder exploitation are typically reported, according to Gottheimer.
The reason more seniors do not come forward is largely due to fear, Lorraine Joewono, executive director of the Bergen County Division of Senior Services, said during an event in New Jersey hosted by Gottheimer earlier this week.
“Their biggest fear is that if they report it, they feel their family will think they can no longer be independent and live alone,” Joewono said.
Many seniors get scammed out of their life savings or retirement funds, she said.
“We always tell seniors please don’t give your information to anybody,” Joewono said. “No one from the IRS is going to call you and ask you to send money.
“Only scammers do that.”
Scammers also often impersonate the Social Security Administration. That agency has worked to raise public awareness of those schemes.
Gottheimer also sponsored the Senior Security Act, which was passed by the House last year. The bill would create a task force within the SEC to submit reports to Congress every two years on financial schemes targeting seniors, like robocalls and voice spoofing.