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tv   Experts Testify on Scams Targeting Elderly  CSPAN  January 6, 2022 4:19pm-5:02pm EST

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consumer advocates testified about scams targeting the elderly during the covid-19 pandemic before the senate special committee on ageing. the witnesses including one scam survivor talked about how criminals are taking advantage of older people who may be more isolated during the pandemic. this is about 90 minutes. good morning, everyone. the special or the senate special committee on ageing will come to order. today the committee convenes a hearing to learn about how
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covid-19 left older americans more vulnerable to frauds and scams. in the early days of the pandemic, many seniors isolated themselves in an effort to avoid contracting the virus, but in the process were cut off from family and friends. fraudsters saw an opportunity and they pounced. they preyed on the fear and uncertainty surrounding the disease as well as the loneliness and isolation that resulted from the pandemic. people were longing for human contact and a friendly voice on the phone or a beckoning message on facebook. that became harder to turn away from, all of that. at the same time without regular contact with friends and family, it was easier for small scams to balloon into big scams.
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so still today, 18 months into the pandemic, federal agencies, state governments and advocates warn of con artists who will do all of the following. number one, peddle fake cures for the coronavirus, number two, charge outrageous prices for protective equipment. and third, seek to steal stimulus checks and unemployment benefits. these types of scenarios, which are exacerbated by the pandemic are not hypothetical. today the committee will hear testimony from kate kleinert, kate's a resident of glen olden, pennsylvania, southeastern pennsylvania. last year kate survived a scam in which a con artist defrauded her of tens of thousands of dollars. i want to thank kate for being with us today. i'll introduce her later more
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formally, but also i want to say to kate and to so many others who come here to congress to testify about something that has happened to them personally, that is an act of courage and sharing her story will help others. the federal trade commission's data shows that kate was not alone in the experience that she endured. a theme we will hear from kate and our other witnesses today is the importance of education in stopping frauds and scams before they start. stories like kate's are why i reintroduced the bipartisan stop senior scams act with senator moran, senate bill 337. 337. i want to thank ranking member scott for cosponsoring the bill and others who are working with us. this bill will create an advisory committee to ensure that banks and other businesses have the information and tools they need to train their
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employees to spot and to speak up about possible senior scams. i was also pleased at the american rescue plan that was passed by democrats in march of this year included funding for the elder justice act to support programs to combat elder abuse, enhance adult protective services and more. this is one of the many programs that serve as front line defenses against elder financial exploitation and abuse. in addition, the ageing committee's annual fraud book, here's the book i'm referring to. this is this year's edition. this provides tips on how older americans can avoid being scammed. this fraud book also provides lists of consumer watchdogs, and law enforcement agencies that can help people who believe they or someone they love may have been scammed.
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starting today this 2020 fraud book, the committee's 2021, i should say, fraud book will be available for download on the ageing committee's web site. at in 2013, the ageing committee started its toll free fraud hot line with the goal of making it easier for seniors to report fraud and to seek assistance. since that time, since 2013, the committee has received thousands of calls and the hope is that the hot line provides the caller with helpful advice, but it also helps the committee keep a pulse on the types of threats that older americans are facing. so for people listening at home, the fraud's hot line toll free number is 1-855-303-9470.
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i'll say that again, 1-855-303-9470. this hot line would not be possible without the efforts of front line staff receiving these calls and providing advice. which is hard and often heartbreaking work. to that end, i would like to thank jose and jasmine on my staff for their efforts to keep the fraud hot line up and running. this is the first time that ranking member scott and i have released the fraud book together. and i think i can say on his behalf that we're proud to do that, and proud to join those who have worked on this, on the committee for many years. one final point, today's hearing will include senators participating both virtually and in person, and i guess it's the second time we've done that.
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we also have votes coming up, so we're hoping to get through at least opening statements by witnesses after ranking member scott's statement, and then we'll see where we are with voting and determine whether we should take a brief recess, so we can vote and then come back and continue the hearing. but i want to thank our witnesses and others who made this hearing possible, and with that, i'll yield and turn to our ranking member, senator tim scott. >> thank you mr. chairman. thank you for holding such an important hearing. there's no doubt about it, during a pandemic the last thing you want to hear about are frauds and scams, especially fraudsters, scammers who focus on our senior population in their golden years. it's just a disgusting and heartbreaking to hear so many stories from so many seniors who have had to deal with the challenges of fraud, and i thank you for your bipartisan leadership. so often people look around our country and wonder if anything works in washington in a
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bipartisan fashion, and i would say with your leadership, we're not working in a bipartisan fashion. we're working in an american fashion, or putting the priorities of americans before anything else. and when it comes to our seniors, i think it's important for us to continue to focus on ways to make sure that our seniors appreciate the fact that the leadership here are servant leaders focusing on how we make sure that the fraudsters and scammers that are taking advantage of too many of our seniors that that stops, and that there are ways for us to deal with those challenges, and i do appreciate the fact that we have a fraud hot line that i think everyone should hear once again. it's 855-303-9470. 855-303-9470. and i say that because so many times, and there's so many situations and scenarios where our seniors face scams. the older you get, the more isolated sometimes too many of our seniors become and the more they face the challenges of
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scammers. there are a couple of ones i want to point out. one is the romance scam. just deplorable, frankly, from my perspective. i know that so many people in their golden years lose a loved one or become widows and widowers, and they are faced with something called the romance scam. in 2020 romance scams reached $304 million in losses, a 50% increase from 2019, and what is in common is the fact that in the middle of the pandemic, seniors are isolated, and lonely. and maybe more susceptible to this type of fraud and this type of scam. congress can do its part to help. i thank you for the bill to stop the scam act, industry employees on how to identify and prevent scams targeting our seniors. forced isolation because of
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covid makes our seniors so much more vulnerable. i think of one in particular in south carolina, the romance fraud claimed 250 victims who suffered losses in excess of $4 million in 2020. a lovely lady, judy, 66 years old in south carolina, a widow who began a relationship with a man using over social media. he slowly gained her trust, and then swindled her out of her resources. $10,000. a senior on a fixed income, lost to this scam. today we are releasing as the chairman noted, the 2021 fraud book. this is such an important guide that can help our seniors avoid such challenging situations. in 2020, the fbi internet crime complaint center received over 791,000 complaints.
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28% of the victims were over the age of 60. this resulted in approximately $1 billion in losses to our seniors. a constituent of mine from columbia, south carolina, shared that she received a phone call from someone pretending to be her grandson. she did what most grandmothers would do, she call her grandson back and tried to verify that it was him, and this car accident that supposedly he was in that required an immediate wire of money, $5,012. she wired the criminal scammers when she could not get in touch with her grandson. unfortunately these types of fraud, very common. 2020, the grandparents scam was the fifth most reported type to our committee's fraud hot line. education and greater awareness are the best ways to make seniors informed consumers.
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that's why i'm proud of what we have in south carolina called project hope. helping our precious and elderly, based in rich land county, south carolina. project hope partners retired law enforcement volunteers with our seniors. they check in on a weekly basis, and they make sure that they are very aware of the potential scammers out there and making sure that they create a fire wall between the scammers and our seniors. i'm so thankful that there are dedicated men and women of our law enforcement community, the men and women of blue who retire and still have a passion for people, find a new way to serve their communities in richland, south carolina. i'm also thankful to the chairman and for the national senior fraud awareness day, which this year was may 13th, 2021. this day will continue to help
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raise awareness about the increasing number of scams targeting our seniors. finally, let me just say to the former chairwoman of this committee, susan collins, who has been a strong leader on this issue of fraud and scams, i thank her for her leadership, and i look forward to hearing the testimonies from our witnesses today. i want to thank each and every one of you for participating in this critical and very important meeting. i yield back, mr. chairman. >> thank you, ranking member scott, i want to acknowledge as we will throughout the hearing, members as they appear, and for those seeing this on television or listening, we have members of the committee in the room, but the witnesses are remote, and wanted to acknowledge first senator rosen who has joined us virtually. let's move now to our witnesses. our first witness is ms. lois
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greisman, the associate director of the bureau of consumer protection at the federal trade commission where she heads the agency's division of marketing practices. ms. greisman has dedicated much of her professional career to combatting fraud and working within the federal trade commission to hold these scammers accountable. today ms. greisman leaves the commission's law enforcement initiatives, tackling frauds and scams. she also serves as the commission's elder justice coordinator. our second witness is ms. odette williamson. ms. williamson's career has been dedicated to protecting consumers, and combatting elder abuse. she currently works as a staff attorney at the national consumer law center in boston, massachusetts. where she works on issues of consumer justice and economic
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security. previously ms. williamson served as the assistant attorney general in the massachusetts office of the attorney general of the state where she enforced consumer protection laws and served on the elder law advocates strike force. next i'll turn to ranking member scott to introduce our next witness, ms. vee daniel. >> thank you, mr. chairman. it is my pleasure to introduce mrs. vee daniel from st. petersburg -- spartanburg, south carolina, president and ceo of the better business bureau serving the upper state of south carolina since 2011. the better business bureau is a nonprofit serving ten counties in the upper part of the state. they work with the public, including military service members and seniors to help consumers find businesses they can trust. they also investigate and call
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out sub standard marketplace behavior. during the covid-19 pandemic, their senior hot line received calls asking about various covid related products and claims. the better business bureau was able to inform callers of the scams. during mrs. daniels' tenure, the bbb created and implemented programs to help seniors better protect themselves against frauds and scams. i look forward to hearing about this program and the great work the better business bureau does to support seniors. mrs. daniel, we thank you for your passion, your commitment, and your service to seniors. thank you for taking the time to talk with us today, and i look forward to hearing your whole testimony. thank you, mr. chairman. >> thank you, ranking member scott. finally i'm pleased to introduce ms. kate kleinert, kate, who's a
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resident of glenolden, pennsylvania, delaware county in the southeastern corner of the state. she retired from her career as an executive secretary for various businesses to take care of her late husband bernie, and currently manages public relations for a local author. over the pandemic, kate became a survivor of a scam and is now sharing her story to help others understand the emotional and financial toll these scams can take. let's now move to the witness statements. we'll begin with ms. greisman. ms. greisman, you may begin. >> i'm lois greisman, i appreciate the opportunity to discuss the fte's initiative to protect older adults. as always, my oral remarks and
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responses regard my own views and do not necessarily reflect those of the commission or any individual commissioner. protecting older adults is a core element of the ftc's work. we know older adults are targeted and adversely affected by a wide range of scams. as many have mentioned, the pandemic has exacerbated that deceptive and unfair marketing and has had a particularly devastating impact on the health and finances of older communities. i want to touch on three areas. data trends, law enforcement, and education. starting with data trends. in 2020, the ftc's consumer sentinel network logged 5 million reports from consumers, older adults reporting trends or based on report of fraud from consumers who voluntarily identify themselves as over age 60. three observations, first as a general matter, younger adults, aged 20 to 59 are more likely to report losing money to fraud than older adults, but quite disturbing is that older adults
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reported much higher individual median losses than younger adults. people 80 and above reported the largest median loss. we observed older adults are more likely to lose money to certain types of scams, namely technical support scams, prize and sweepstakes scams, and family and friend impersonation scams, and that last category includes grandparent scams. third the data indicate what types of scams are causing the greatest dollar loss to older adults, one who has already been mentioned by you, romance scams followed by prize sweepstakes scams and business impersonator scams. the economic harm is enormous, more than 600 million reported by older adults in 2020, and we know this is just the tip of the iceberg. notably reported losses to romance scams have increased significantly in the years, and this trend has only accelerated during the pandemic.
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shifting now to law enforcement, looking at the past year, we have filed at least 13 cases that had a notable impact on older adults. these range from investment scams to products to treat or prevent covid-19, to products to treat or prevent cognitive decline. when we file a case, we have two immediate goals. stop the ongoing harm and preserve assets so that we can return money to defrauded consumers. over the years,s ftc has successfully returned billions of dollars to consumers. so far this year, we have returned money to consumers who conducted the claims process in at least 11 cases where we've seen older adults impacted. a recent supreme court decision, however, amg, eliminated the ftc's ability to obtain monetary relief for defrauded consumers under section 13 b of the ftc act. i cannot underscore how vital this tool has been to put money back into people's product. the economic impact of the pandemic has been devastating.
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particularly so on older adults who may be on fixed incomes. as a law enforcement agency, we are committed to providing redress to defrauded consumers. to do so effectively and efficiently, we need a fix for 13 b, finally, the ftc devotes considerable resources in engaging in outreach and education for older adults. since 2014, pass it on has been the fraud prevention campaign for older adults, to enable people to understand scams and to literally pass on information about them to friends and family. in addition, the ftc's continued to reach communities during the pandemic conducting nearly 100 pandemic related outreach events with partners in fiscal year 2021. to sum up, i hope it's clear that protecting older adults is a priority for the ftc, the devastating impact of the pandemic on older adults has only emboldened its work, and finally restoring the ftc's
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ability to obtain monetary relief under 13 b is critical to enable the agency to continue to provide redress to those harmed by unfair and deceptive acts and practices. thank you very much, and i look forward to your questions. >> thank you, ms. grisman for your statement. we'll turn to ms. williamson. >> mr. chairman, ranking member scott and members of the special committee on ageing, thank you for inviting me to testify today regarding frauds and scams aimed at older adults during the covid-19 pandemic. i offer my testimony on behalf of low income clients of the national consumer law center. the national consumer law center uses its expertise on consumer law and energy policy to work for consumer justice, and economic security for a low income people. at nclc, i focus on issues impacting older consumers, provide training through the national center on law and elder
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rights and direct our racial justice initiative. all consumers are vulnerable to frauds and scam. widespread illness and death brought on by the pandemic created fertile ground for the proliferation of scams aimed at older adults. this includes bogus treatment and curious for covid-19, romance scams, government imposter scams and fake charities. the list is endless. scammers are constantly developing new and creative ways to steal money from consumers. scammers target older adults whom they suspect are lonely, isolated, confused or financially distressed. low income older adults including those facing eviction, unemployment, and economic uncertainty are especially at risk as they search for government programs or financial assistance. >> older adults in communities that are racially, ethically, or
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linguistically isolated face a special challenge. an ftc fraud survey, for example, found that latinos experience higher rates of fraud than other populations. scammers purchase ads on spanish language radio and exploit misinformation and confusion regarding covid-19 treatments, vaccines, and the availability of financial assistance. given the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on communities of color, we expect to see further uptick in frauds and scams aimed at these communities. the impact of frauds and scams on older adults is simply devastating. depending on the amount of money or assets taken, older adults can fall into poverty or homelessness. scams also impact the emotional and physical health of victims as they struggle to give on fewer resources for food, medicine, and other basic necessities. the financial strain and embarrassment may cause older
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victims to become fearful, depressed and even suicidal. the options to recover the money or assets stolen are few. many scams are not discovered early, and consumers' attempts to stop or reverse payment is often too late or not possible. scammers are known for the speed with which they redeem gift cards and pike up money wired to them. and consumers are rarely able to retrieve funds sent through these mechanisms. more protections are needed to give consumers a fighting chance to recover money transferred to scammers. new payment systems, such as the pier to peer, payment platforms, venmo and cash app and others are being used to facilitate scams. warnings provided by the payment apps are simply not enough to protect consumers. rather congress should modernize the federal law, the electronic
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funds transfer act to add protections for fraudulently induced payments. and the board is in the middle of developing a new payment system called fed now. however, recently proposed rules for the fed now program duplicate the problems of existing p 2 p payment systems, by falling against fraud and consumer eras. financial institutions and payment providers have a responsibility to prevent accounts from being used for scams and other illegal purposes. the fed must make fed now a model for other payment systems, and must not value speed and convenience at the expense of safety. older consumers who have suffered the devastating health and economic consequences of the covid-19 pandemic deserve the highest level of protection from frauds and scams. i thank you for the opportunity to testify today and look forward to your questions.
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>> thank you, ms. williams for your opening statement, ms. daniel, you may begin. >> i know we had some connection issues. >> she may be suffering through the technology issues. >> maybe we'll move to our witness, and come back to ms. daniel. we'll move now to kate kleinert. >> ranking member scott, my name is kate kleinert, and i'm a scam survivor. i am from glenolden, pennsylvania, and i have been widowed for 12 years, my husband bernie passed away in 2009. since then i have never looked for any new romance in my life because i still felt married to my husband. i was not interested in finding
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another love. but last summer in august 2020, i received a friend request on facebook that caught my eye. it was unfortunately the one in a million that i decided to accept and become friends with. his name is tony. well, that's what he told me. we exchanged messages for a number of days, and he told me that he was interested in the same things that he saw on my facebook page. like dogs and gardening. i thought that was wonderful. we started talking on the phone through an app he had me download. he told me he was a surgeon working in iraq through a contract with united nations and he had two children, a boy and a girl. tony became romantic more quickly than i did, and i kept trying to put him off, saying we didn't know each other.
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tony had the kids get in touch with me through e-mail, and they started calling me mom, which is my achilles heel because i didn't have children of my own. that put me head over heels. the first request for money came from the girl who needed some feminine supplies but was embarrassed to ask her father. i sent her a gift card. i would go to any store, buy a gift card, take a picture of the front, the back and the receipt, and send her that information through e-mail. and she could use it to make purchases. from then, there was always some kind of an emergency or some urgent need for money. things became more serious between tony and i. he wanted to get married. he even asked if i would go out and start looking at houses. i was constantly sending him gift cards, even though now i was using up the last of my
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husband's life insurance. my savings were gone. i was living on my credit cards and he was getting what i took from social security and my pension. and all this time, only only on person, an employee at a drugstore, ever asked me if i knew who i was sending these gift cards to. i kept doing this because he swore to me he would repay me the minute he got back to the states. and even sent me his passwords to his account at bank of america so i could see his balance, which was a little over $2 million. when he was finally allowed vacation, tony was going to fly to philadelphia on december 10th and i was going to pick him up at the airport. i was so excited. i got all dressed up, my hair was done, my nails were done. i waited all night long.
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he never called. and even at this point i never considered that it was a scam. i was just worried about him. then the next morning i got a call from a man who said he was tony's lawyer and said that someone had slipped drugs in tony's bag and he was arrested and needed money for bail. he asked me for $20,000. the lawyer told me to do whatever i could, take out a second mortgage from my home, borrow it from my family, do whatever i could. but i wasn't able to do that. i became suspicious when i asked to meet tony in person but the lawyer said he had been transferred to oklahoma. i became even more suspicious when tony started calling me
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himself five or six times a day from prison asking for more gift cards to buy better food. something wasn't right. by now i had sent him a total of $39,000, which to some people is not much, but to someone in my position it's a great deal. i am still paying for that today because i can't get things repaired at the house. i've had no air-conditioning this summer. my refrigerator is off and my stove is off. i have been leaning on my sisters and a few friends to get me through this. but the loss that hurts the most was losing his love and losing the family i thought i was going to have and what my new future was going to be. that is much harder to deal with than losing the money. i have since come to find out all those pictures he sent me of
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himself were actually a doctor in spain. i tried to report this to the police but could not get anyone to listen to me. i also called aarp's fraud number that was in their magazine and got a retired detective who was supportive and encouraged me to share my story. but i've been frustrated at the lack of options to recover the money that i've lost or the ability to hold him responsible for these damages. but even though this experience is painful to speak about, i want to be an ambassador for this cause. because it's so devastating, and many people have been through this but not spoken about it. they continue to carry this heavy burden alone. in my case i got pulled in because i had forgotten how good it felt to be loved.
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thank you. >> thank you for sharing. it was a moving story when i read it but even more so hearing from you. i think we're going to try ms. daniel again to see if she's connected. >> yes. sorry about that. chairman casey, ranking member tim scott and distinguished members of the committee, thank you for the opportunity to testify today on the topic of fraud scams and covid-19, how con artists have targeted older americans during the pandemic. i'm a college communications major graduate, mother of an early childhood teacher, an intern architect and a new grandmother. i'll be celebrating my 30th wedding anniversary this year. i serve as president and ceo at the better business bureau of the up state and better business bureau education foundation, a position i've held since 2011. it's a non-profit promoting
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trust between consumers and businesses in the marketplace and has been around for more than 100 years. when i was first offered the position, i was intrigued. i grew up with a father who was a huge advocate for the bbb. when his friends needed assistance with customer service issues my dad would always say call the bbb. i'll never forgetthality day i spoke to those seniors and listened to their scam stories. it was heart breaking. i learned to speak louder, ask questions, listen, and the most important part was realizing education is the key to fighting senior fraud. that's when i knew this role with the bbb was the perfect fit for me. since that day i've never turned down the opportunity to speak and educate seniors. in 2015 we dubbed the program savvy seniors because that's what we wanted to achieve. during the pandemic we witnessed
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new scams that involved masks, immunity boosting products and equipment for all nonpurchases related to covid-19. we've seen fake websites, fishing e-mails and stimulus checks and also seen an increase in romance scams during covid-19. bbbs across the country rallied together to warn about all covid related scams we were seeing. we partnered to provide 1,000 bbb information packets. as part of a larger national effort the bbb of the up state has posted security.
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consumers and businesses are encouraged to attend the free community service event and properly shred and destroy sensitive documents. in 2018 bbb up state partnered with aarp south carolina, and from that partnership we have increased our events from 4 to now 8 events a year. last year we held two events one in greenville and one in saint anderson. about 90% of attendees are seniors. bbb scam tracker is an online platform that enables consumers and businesses to report scams and suspicious activities. the data is analyzed and reports made available to the general public thus empowering consumers to avoid losing money to
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scammers. users can view the number, types and details about scammers, scams reported in their communities. bbb scam tracker data enables local bbbs to educate consumers. a report was released of the rise of online scams during covid-19. the risk index is a formula that looks at scams in a different way. the volume of each time of scam reported to bbb scam tracker, the susceptibility rate and the dollar loss. that formula shows the scams that are the riskiest and may not be for the scam with the most reports. for instance, romance scams were riskiest for ages 55 through 64
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followed by online purchases and investment scams. since bbb became track scams in this way since 2016 we've seen a clear pattern. all those seniors are pretty savvy and tend to fall for scams less frequently than the younger demographic groups, they lose more money. this is partly because of the type of scams that target seniors, romance scams, invest scams, family emergency scams to be the higher dollar amounts. although many seniors have gotten a message and are more cautious in the past too many are still falling victim to unscrupulous criminals. bbb is proud of the role we play but there is much more that can be done, and we appreciate the attention this issue is getting. thank you for the opportunity to be a witness today on the
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relevant topic how con artists have targeted older americans during the pandemic. >> mrs. daniel, thanks so much for your testimony. i want to acknowledge two members of the committee who are here or one who's been here and will be back. i guess senator collins is here with us. ranking member scott made reference, senator collins, to the years when you were chair and producing the scams that the committee has been using for so many years. so we thank you for being here. senator bron was with us earlier and i want to acknowledge his attendance at the hearing. we'll take a brief recess now to vote at least so that ranking member scott and i can vote and then we'll come back and resume the hearing.
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>> okay, the hearing will
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