AARP Fights Consumer Fraud – by Herb Weiss

Published in Pawtucket Times on November 30, 2020

Every year, fraudsters continue to operate government imposter scams falsely claim to be from federal agencies, including the Internal Revenue Service, Social Security Administration, to get people to turn over money or personal information. Every year, hundreds of thousands of Americans continue to fall victim to these scams.

FTC Compiles Fraud Complaints

Last January, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) released its annual report detailing data from the Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book 2019, continuing to put a spotlight on the impact of imposter scams and identify fraud on consumers across the nation. Expect the FTC to release its 2020 data book early next year.

The data book, initially released in 2008, includes national statistics, as well as a state-by-state listing of top report categories in each states, and a listing of metropolitan areas that generated the most complaints per 100,000 population.

According to the FTC, its 2019 database network receives reports directly from consumers, as well as from federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies and a number of private partners. Last year, the network received 3.2 million reports, including nearly 1.7 million fraud reports as well as identity theft and other reports.

The researchers found that younger people reported losing money to fraud more often than older people. But, when people age 70 and over had losses, the median loss was much higher, they say.  

Imposter scams, a subset of Fraud reports, followed closely behind with 657,472 reports from consumers of 2019. The most common type of fraud reported to the FTC last year was identified theft scams, with imposter scams following closely behind.    

Specifically, last year there were over 647,000 imposter scams reported to FTC’s database. Thirteen percent of those calling reported a dollar loss, totaling nearly $667 million lost to imposter scammers. These scams include, for example, romance scams, people falsely claiming to be the government, a relative in distress, a well-known business, or a technical support expert, to get a consumer’s money.

Of the 1.7 million fraud reports, 23 percent indicated money was lost. In 2019, people reported losing more than $1.9 billion to fraud – an increase of $293 million over what was reported in 2018.

Protecting Yourself Against Scammers

With the release of a new report, AARP continues its efforts to combat identify theft and imposter scams. The Washington, DC-based nonprofits continues to report on the latest scams, exploring its impact on U.S. adults age 55 and over and how technology may play a role in their ability to protect themselves from financial harm. The 16-page report, “Identity Fraud in Three Acts,” developed by Javelin Strategy & Research and sponsored by AARP, reveals that 26 percent of seniors have been victims of identity fraud. But researchers say that more are taking additional safeguards to prevent losses of personal information. Following an identity theft incident, 29 percent have placed credit freezes on their credit bureau information, and more than half have enrolled in identity protection or credit monitoring services.

“Older Americans are leading more digitally infused lives, with two-thirds using online banking weekly, so it’s encouraging to see that many are taking proactive steps to protect their identity following a data breach,” said Kathy Stokes, Director of AARP Fraud Prevention Programs in a statement announcing the release of the report. “Passwords still represent a security threat, however; using repeated passwords across multiple online accounts makes it easy for criminals to crack one of them so that all of your accounts – including financial accounts – become accessible,” says Stokes.

According to the AARP report, age 55 and over consumers call for banks to use stronger security authentication. About 90 percent support the use of more fingerprint scanning, and 80 percent view facial recognition capabilities as a reliable form of technology for financial transactions and private business matters. The report’s findings indicate that identity fraud victims age 65 and over do not necessarily change how they shop, bank or pay following a fraudulent event, with 70 percent exhibiting reluctance to change familiar habits.

“Criminals are regularly targeting age 55 and over Americans through a combination of sophisticated scams via computer malware and also through more traditional low-tech channels via telephone and U.S. mail,” says the AARP report’s author, John Buzzard, Lead Analyst, Fraud and Security at Javelin. “The combination of high-tech and low-tech strategies unfortunately gives the upper hand to the criminal — not the consumer,” he adds.

The AARP report provides these tips to older consumers to protect their pocketbooks. Just hang up on strangers. Independently verify everything.  Always adopt security practices that go beyond a single password.  Consider using a password manager tool or app to create and safely store complex passwords.  Always write down important numbers of companies you do business with rather than rely on a web search for a customer service number, as criminals post fake numbers online.  

The report also recommends securing your devices – mobile phones, laptops and tablets- with a complex password, preferably with screen locks that use a fingerprint or facial recognition and secure personal payments with digital wallets.

Be vigilant.  Don’t become a sucker for scams.  

To report a compliant, call the Consumer Sentinel HelpLine at 1.877.701.9595.

For a copy of Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book 2019, go to:  https://www.ftc.gov/system/files/documents/reports/consumer-sentinel-network-data-book-2019/consumer_sentinel_network_data_book_2019.pdf

For a copy of “Identity Fraud in Three Acts,” go to:  https://www.aarp.org/content/dam/aarp/home-and-family/family-and-friends/2020/10/aarp-Identity-fraud-report.pdf.

To learn more about AARP’s fraud prevention programs, visit aarp.org/fraudwatchnetwork.  

LCAO Calls for Fourth Stimulus Bill to Protect the Health and Well-Being of Seniors

Published in the Wooonsocket Call on April 19, 2020

As part of the Economic Impact Payment provision in the recently enacted $ 2.2 trillion stimulus bill, at press time about 80 million Americans have already received their $ 1,200 stimulus check ($2,400 for joint filers) through direct deposit. But for those 70 million Americans waiting for this payment by paper check, this Congressional handout may not be delivered to their mail box by early May, predict a Democratic Senator.

While the U.S. Treasury Department denies that embossing President Donald Trump’s signature on the “memo” section of the check will delay the delivery of paper checks, Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member Ron Wyden, (D-Ore.) disagrees.

A Break in Protocol

In an April 15 statement, Wyden stated: “Donald Trump is further delaying cash payments to millions of Americans struggling to pay the rent and put food on the table to feed his ego. Only this president would try to make a pandemic and economic catastrophe all about him.”

According to an article published in the Washington Post on April 14, “It will be the first time a president’s name appears on an IRS disbursement, whether a routine refund or one of the handful of checks the government has issued to taxpayers in recent decades either to stimulate a down economy or share the dividends of a strong one.”

The Washington Post article, penned by Reporter Lisa Rein, reported that Trump had initially approached Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who oversees the Internal Revenue Service, to be allowed to sign the checks. “But the president is not an authorized signer for legal disbursements by the U.S. Treasury. It is standard practice for a civil servant to sign checks issued by the Treasury Department to ensure that government payments are nonpartisan,” says the article.

Political insiders say that we can expect to see a fourth stimulus package hammered out between the Democratic-controlled House, the GOP-led Senate and Trump, to pump billions to jumpstart the nation’s sputtering economy. A second round of cash payments may well be part of this economic stimulus package, they say.

“We could very well do a second round,” said President Donald Trump at a White House news conference held over a week ago. “It is absolutely under serious consideration,” he said.

Last week’s commentary publicized Max Richtman, president and CEO of the Washington, D.C.-based National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, call to Congress to protect seniors in a fourth stimulus package (go to https://herbweiss.blog/2020/04/12/congress-must-protect-seniors-in-phase-four-stimulus-package/).

The continuing political battle over crafting the fourth stimulus bill has been put on hold for now with Democratic and WRepublican congressional leaders extending recess. After conferring with public health experts, the House and Senate will not come back into session until, Monday, May 4th.

Calling on Congress to Protect Seniors During the COVID-19 Pandemic

In an April 8 letter, the Washington, DC-based Leadership Council on Aging Organizations (LCAO), representing 69 national nonprofit organizations, urged Congressional lawmakers to ensure that a fourth stimulus package will protect the health and wellbeing of seniors and their families. LCAO’s 19-page communication provides over 50 recommendations (in the areas of housing services, income security and health and community resources) that are key to helping and providing the needed support to assist seniors cope with the raging COVID-19 pandemic.

Specially, LCAO calls on Congress to put funding for affordable housing in a fourth stimulus bill, by funding $ 1.4 billion for federally assisted housing supports to make up for vacancies along with decreased rents from HUD-and USDA-assisted older adult residents, and for emergency housing assistance. Investing $1 billion for new Section 202 Homes would result in short-and long-term jobs as well as 3,800 affordable homes becoming available with service coordinators, says LCAO. Congress was also requested to allocate $450 million in emergency assistance for HUD-assisted senior housing communities, too.

LCAO opposes any attempts to weaken the nation’s Social Security and Medicare programs. The aging group strongly resists any efforts to include a provision in the stimulus bill that would eliminate the payroll contributions to these programs and pushes for the expansion of Social Security and Supplemental (SSI) benefits to enhance the income security of America’s retirees.

Over 10 million workers and retirees have earned benefits under multiemployer pension plans, says LCAO, urging Congress in their letter to allocate sufficient funds to protect the “hard-earned benefits” of these retirees.

With a growing number of the nation’s seniors relying on the support of caregivers, LCAO calls for support of older adult caregivers and children through the expansion of the refundable tax credit for “other dependents.”

Within the next five years, 25 percent of the workforce will be age 55 and over, says LCAO, noting that it becomes crucial to provide adequate funding to the Senior Community Service Employee Program for workforce training.

It’s important to protect seniors from confusing and unfair billing hospitals and payment scams. This can be accomplished by establishing standards for billing that will help seniors manage the aftermath of health care costs due to the pandemic.

Each year, Medicare loses $60 billion to fraud and abuse. LCAO also requests $20 million for the Senior Medicare Patrol to educate Medicare beneficiaries on combating fraud and abuse scams.

LCAO’s letter also asked Congress for adequate funding of mass testing for COVID-19, data collection and accelerate Medicare enrollment to provide seniors and people with disabilities with access to needed medical treatment, two populations with the highest risk for being afflicted by the devastating virus. Congress must also ensure access and affordability to prescription drugs, says the Washington, DC-based aging advocacy group.

LCAO urged Congress to give states sufficient Medicaid funding to keep hundreds of thousands of Medicaid recipients from losing health coverage, which would increase the risk of these individuals spreading the COVID-19 virus.

The need to social distancing may force day care centers to close. LCAO says that a fourth stimulus bill package might add language within the Medicare and Medicaid Home and Community Based Service funding to authorize states to apply retainer payments to adult day care centers for the purpose of providing services to seniors outside the physical center.

LCAO also made a recommendation to prevent the unnecessary transfers of seniors to hospitals and nursing homes and support those recovering from COVID-19 by increasing beneficiary access to home health care by eliminating Medicare’s requirement that they be home bound to quality for this benefit.

LCAO’s letter supported the expanded access to hospice care by allowing physician assistants to certify need and to create a federal fund to identify and set up alternative care sites to nursing homes that meet the same minimum federal standards of care.

LCAO pushed for an additional $50 million to fund the Medicare State Health Insurance Program, a program providing unbiased, free and personalized information to assist seniors to chooses Medicare products, to help seniors understand their specific health care coverage needs under this COVID emergency.

The fourth stimulus bill, says LCAO, must also include funding to ensure providers in health care facilities and at community-based programs, be given personal protective equipment. These providers should be provided free child care and sick leaved during this crisis, too.

Considered “a frontline resource in the battling the pandemic,” LCAO calls for the adequate funding to Geriatric Workforce Enhancement Program, administered by the Health Resources Administration.

LCAO, noting the importance of federal programs that assist seniors to stay at home (including the Older Americans Act that directly serve seniors and caregivers, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the largest federal nutrition program), asks Congress to increase funding, benefits and streamline the application process to these programs to address healthcare and food needs during this pandemic.

With the COVID-19 virus spreading throughout the nation’s nursing homes and assisted living facilities, LCAO calls for more funding to the nation’s long-term care ombudsman program for remote online training and education of nursing facility staff and volunteers, and to the National Ombudsman Resource Center for training materials.

With elder abuse and neglect cases in the community reaching 63,000 in 2018 and an expected surge in incidences due to the pandemic, LCAO calls for funding of $ 120 million for the nation’s state and local Adult Protective Services programs in the next stimulus bill. Also, allocating $4.1 billion for the Social Service Block Grant Program can provide critical services to vulnerable seniors through adult protective services, adult day care and in-home support services, congregate and home delivered meals, case management programs.

Finally, in a fourth economic response package, LCAO calls on lawmakers to include $15 million for the Retired Senior Volunteer Program and $10 million for the Senior Companion program to provide volunteer opportunities for seniors in their communities during the pandemic crisis. Congress might also consider “easing or suspending the current age requirements for participation,” to allow younger seniors to participate.

Remember Your Older Constituents

With the Trump Administration and GOP lawmakers pushing to put billions of dollars into the fourth stimulus bill to support the nation’s large corporations and small businesses, during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important for Congress to not forget the needs of the nation’s seniors. If you run into your Congressman or Senator, make sure you urge them to seriously consider the needs of their older constituents.

To get a copy of LCAO’s letter to Congress, go to https://www.lcao.org/files/2020/04/LCAO-April-2020-Letter-for-COVID-19-Package-4-FINAL.docx.pdf .