In response to the explosion of scams during the Coronavirus Pandemic, Representative Josh Harder (CA-10) introduced the Protecting Seniors from Scams Act, which would help Congress and federal regulators crack down on fraud committed against senior citizens during national emergencies. The FBI has warned that over 11,000 scam incidents have been reported since March – a 100 percent increase since the same period of time last year. Older Americans are often the target of these scams. Fraudsters have taken advantage of the advent of contact tracing, the distribution of stimulus benefits, and the widespread usage of unemployment benefits to engage in identity theft and other scams. Rep. Harder’s bill would establish a national strategy for cracking down on scams and create a better notification strategy for the public.
“I’ve heard from a lot of seniors in the Valley who have been targeted by scammers – we need a clear national strategy to fight fraud during emergencies like this and we need to get the information out to people before they’re attacked,” said Rep. Harder. “My bill will help people understand how to protect themselves and where to go if they become a victim.”
The FBI and other federal agencies have warned of an increase in scam attacks since the outset of the virus. In addition to stimulus check, unemployment, and contact tracing fraud, the FBI has warned of fraud surrounding testing, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), and health care.
Locally, the Healthy Aging Association of Stanislaus County recently warned its members of contact tracing scams. The association notes that scammers have attempted to steal personal information from seniors by claiming to be conducting tracing services. Scammers will reach out via text messages or phone calls claiming to be collecting information on contact with people who have tested positive for the Coronavirus to obtain personal information.
The Protecting Seniors from Scams Act would take several steps to crack down on scams targeting seniors during national emergencies.
The bill would require the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to issue a comprehensive report to Congress on the number and type of scams targeted at seniors – specifically including attempts to steal stimulus payments
It would also direct these agencies to issue policy recommendations to Congress on how to crack down on these scams
The bill would also require the IRS and FTC to provide more detailed information on scams to the public on their websites, including a search feature that allows Americans to look up scams by region, type, as well as provide contacts for local law enforcement and adult protective services. It would also direct the agencies to coordinate with members of the media to distribute the information to the public.
In the early days of the pandemic, Harder warned of the explosion in the number of scams related to the distribution of Coronavirus stimulus payments. At that time, over 150,000 fake websites were established to trick people into giving out their personal information. Last year, before the pandemic began, Rep. Harder voted to pass the bipartisan Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence (TRACED) Act, which allows federal authorities to fine spam callers up to $10,000 per call, require phone companies to create screening technology to prevent spam calls from reaching Americans’ phones, and create a joint group of federal agencies and other non-federal entities that will assist Congress in future efforts to crack down on scam calls. He also held a telephone town hall with Central Valley seniors which focused on scams and included a representative from the FTC.