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tv   Experts Testify on Scams Targeting Elderly  CSPAN  January 14, 2022 5:13am-5:55am EST

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>> good morning, everyone. the senate special committee on aging will come to order today. the committee convenes a hearing to learn about how covid-19 left older americans more vulnerable to frauds and scams. in their 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 prayed on the fear and the 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 without regular contact with friends and family, it was easier for small scams to balloon into big scams. so still today, 18 months into the pandemic, federal agencies, state governments and advocates who
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-- warn of con artists who will do the following. pedal fake cures for the coronavirus number to 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 or not hypothetical. today the committee will hear testimony from kate kleiner . kate is a resident in 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 formally but also i want to say to kate into so many others who come here to congress to testify about something that that has happened to them personally. that is an act of courage and sharing her story will help
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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 seeing your scams act with senator moran. senate bill 337. i want to thank ranking member scott for co-sponsoring the bill and others who were 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 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
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this year included funding for the elder justice act to support programs to combat elder abuse, enhanced adult protective services and more. this is one of the many programs that serve as frontline defenses against elder financial exploitation and abuse. in addition, the aging 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. starting today, this 2020 fraud book that committee's 2021 i should say fraud book will be available for download on the aging committee's website at
5:19 am in the aging committee started 2013, its toll free fraud hotline 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 hotline 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. for people listening at home, the frauds hotline toll free number is 1-855-303-9470. i will say that again. 1-855-303-9470. this hotline would not be possible without the efforts of
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frontline staff receiving these calls and providing advice which is hard and often heartbreaking work. to that end, i'd like to thank jose and jasmine on my staff for their efforts to keep the fraud hotline up and running. this will include senators participating in person and virtually and we have votes coming up so we hope to get through at least opening statements by witnesses after ranking member scott's statement and then we will see where we are with voting and determine
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whether we should take a brief recess so we can vote and come back and continue the hearing. i want to thank their witnesses and others made this possible and with that, i will yield and turn it to senator jim scott. >> thank you. mr. chairman, thank you for holding such an important hearing. there's no doubt about it that during a pandemic, the last thing you want... to hear about his scams. it's heartbreaking to hear so many stories from so many seniors. i thank you for your bipartisan leadership. people look around our country and think if anything works in our country and i would say we are not working in a bipartisan fashion, just an american fashion stuff we are putting the
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priorities of americans before anything else. it's important to continue to focus in ways that the elderly are focusing on how we can make sure the fraudsters and scammers taking advantage of too many of our seniors stop and there are ways for us to deal with those challenges and i appreciate the fact that we have a fraud hotline that i think everyone should hear it again, 85 5-3030-9400. too many of our seniors are victims of scammers. one is a romance scam and so many people in their golden
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years lose a loved one. we have widowers and they are faced with something called the romance scam. in 2020, they reached 304 million dollars in losses, a 50% increase from 2019. what's in common is that in the affected -- in the middle of a pandemic, seniors are isolated. may be more susceptible to this private fraud. congress can do its part to help and i think chairman casey for the bill stop senior scams act which creates an advisory group on how to identify and prevent scams targeting our seniors. because of covid, it 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
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million dollars in lovely lady 2020. judy, 66 years... he slowly gained her trust and he swindled her out of her resources. $10,000. a senior on a fixed income lost to this scam. today we are releasing the 2021 fraud book. this is an important guide to help our seniors avoid challenging situations. in 2020, the fbi, internet crime complaint center received over 791,000 complaints, 28% of the victims were over the age of 60. this resulted in approximately $1 billion in losses to our seniors.
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a constituent of mine from columbia, south carolinas that she received a phone call from someone pretending to be your grandson. she called her grandson back and try to verify it was him and it was suppose it car accident he was in the wired and immediate wire of money of $5,000. she could not get in touch with her grandson but she wired the scammers. these types of frauds are very common. the grandparents scam was the fifth most reported type to our committees hotline. these are the best ways to make seniors informed consumers. i am proud of what we have in south carolina called project hope, helping our precious and elderly.
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partners are retired law enforcement and they check in with seniors on a weekly basis and make sure they are aware of potential scammers out there and making sure they create a firewall between the scammers and our seniors. i am thankful that there are dedicated men and women of our law enforcement community who retired and still have a passion for people and they are finding a new way to serve their community in richland, south carolina. i am thankful to the chairman for the national senior fraud awareness day which this year was may 13. this will continue to help raise awareness about the increasing number of scams targeting our seniors. finally, to the former chairwoman of this committee, susan collins who has been a
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strong leader on this issue of fraud, i thank her for her leadership and i look forward to hearing the testimonies from our witnesses today and i want to thank each and every one of you for participating in this critical and important meeting. ideal back. >> 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 on radio, the witnesses are remote and i want to acknowledge senator rosen has joined is virtually stop let's move to our witnesses. our first witness is ms. lois c. greisman
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she has dedicated much of her professional career to combating fraud and working within the federal trade commission to hold these scammers accountable. today, she leads the commission of law enforcement initiatives tackling fraud and scams. she also serves as the commission's elder justice coordinator. our second witness is ms. odette williamson . she works as a staff attorney the national consumer law center in boston, massachusetts where she works on issues of consumer justice and economic security. previously, she served as the assistant attorney general in the massachusetts office of the attorney general of the state.
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she enforced consumer protection laws and served on the elder law advocates strikeforce. next i will turn to ranking member scott to introduce our next witness, misses vee daniel >> thank you. mr chairman. it is my pleasure to introduce mrs v. daniel from spartanburg south carolina. mrs daniel has been president and ceo of the better... business bureau serving 10 counties in the upper part of the state. they work with the public including military members to help consumers find banks they can trust and they investigate and call out substandard marketplace behavior. during the pandemic, their senior hotline received calls asking about various covid related products and claim.
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the better business bureau was able to inform callers of scam. during her tenure, the trip will be also created -- the bbb distributed flyers to educate the elderly on scams. we think of 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 step thank you, mr. chairman. >> thank you. ranking member scott. finally, i'm pleased to introduce miss kate kleinert . kate who's a resident of glen old in pennsylvania. that's... where she retired to take care
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of her late husband bernie and currently manages public relations for a local office. over the pandemic, she became a survivor of a scam and is now sharing her story to help others understand the emotional and financial toll the scams can take. let's now move to the witness statements. we will begin with ms. greisman, you may begin. >> i lois greisman, am i appreciate the opportunity to discuss the ftc's initiatives to protect all the results. as as always, these do not reflect anyone else on the commit -- commission except my own opinion.
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older adults are targeted and affected by a wide range of scams. the pandemic has exacerbated unfair marketing and has had a devastating impact on the health and finances of older communities. starting with data trends, in 2020, the ftc logged nearly 5 million reports from older adults from consumers who voluntarily identify themselves. as a general matter, younger else age 20-59 are more likely to report losing money than older adults. older adults recorded higher levels than younger adults. people age 80 and above reporters the largest meaningful losses. older adults are likely to lose
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money to certain types of scams, mainly technical support scams or sweepstakes and family and friends impersonation scams and that includes the grandparents scams. romance scams and then private sweepstakes scams and business impersonator scams are next. economic harm is a norm us. more than 600 million reported by older adults in 2020 and we know this is just the tip of the iceberg. reportedly losses to romance scams have increased. this trend has accelerated. looking at the past year, 13 cases have had a notable impact on older alerts -- older adults from investment scams.
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when we file a case, we stop the ongoing harm and preserve so we can return money to defraud consumers. we have returned billion's of dollars to consumers. this year, we've return money to conservators -- to consumers in at least 11 cases. a recent supreme court decision eliminated the ftc's ability to obtain monetary relief for defrauding consumers under section 13 b. this tool of section 13 b has been crucial to put money back into those victims hands. as a law-enforcement agency, we are committed to providing redress to consumers but to do so effectively and efficiently,
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we need to fix 13 b. the ftc devotes resources to outreach and edgy patient for older adults. pass it on has been the signature campaign for older adults. it has a bunch of resources to understand scams and pass on information to friends and family. the ftc continues to read during the pandemic. they have nearly 100 outreach related events. i hope that protecting older adults is a priority for the ftc staff thank you very much and i
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look forward to your questions. >> thank you for your statement and that we will turn to ms. williamson. >> mr. chairman and members, thank you for inviting me to testify today regarding fraud and scams in older adults during the covid-19 pandemic stop 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 low income people at n. c. l. c. i focus on issues impacting older consumers provide training through the , national center on law and elder rights and direct our racial justice initiative. all all consumers are vulnerable to frauds and scams. but widespread illness and death combined with the social isolation brought on by the pandemic, created fertile
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ground for the proliferation of scams aimed at older adults. this includes bogus treatment and cures for covid-19 romance scams, government imposter scams and fake charities. the list is 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 ethnically or linguistically isolated face a special challenge and ftc fraud survey for example, found that latinos experience experience higher rates of fraud than other populations. scammers purchase ads on spanish language radio
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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 out take in frauds and scams aimed at these communities. the impact of frauds and scams and 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 live on fewer resources for food, medicine and other basic necessities. the financial strain and embarrassment may cause older 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
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are known for the speed with which they redeem gift cards and pick 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 a peer to peer or p two p payment platforms, venmo and cash up and others are being used to facilitate scams. the warnings provided by the payment apps are simply not enough to protect consumers. rather, congress should modernize the federal law the electronic funds transfer act to add protections for fraudulently induced payments and consumer errors. finally, the federal reserve board is in the middle of developing a new p two p payments system called fed. now,
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however, recently proposed rules for the fed now program duplicate the problems of existing p two p payments systems by failing to provide consumers with protections against fraud and consumer errors. 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. >> thank you miss williamson for your opening statement. miss
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daniel. you may begin. i know we had some connection issues. i think she may still be suffering through the technology issues there. well maybe we'll move to our next witness and we can come back to miss daniel. we'll we'll move now to kate kleiner senator casey ranking member scott and members of the aging committee. my name is kate kleinert and i'm a scam survivor. i am from glen old in pennsylvania and i have been widowed for 12 years. my husband bernie passed away in 2009. show 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 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.
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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. download. he told me he was a surgeon working in iraq through a contract with the united nations and that he has two children, a little boy and a girl tony became romantic much more quickly than i did. and i kept trying to put him off saying we didn't know each other. but tony had the kids get in touch with me through email 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
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from the girl who needed some feminine supplies. what 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 sent her that information through email 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 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 one person, an
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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 when he was finally allowed $2 million. vacation, tony was going to fly to philadelphia on december 10 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, 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
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that in iraq someone had slipped drugs into tony's bag and he knew nothing about it but was arrested at the airport and now needed money for bail. he asked me for $20,000. the lawyer told me to do whatever i could take out a second mortgage on my home, borrowed 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 that he had been transferred to oklahoma, i became even more suspicious when tony started calling me himself five or 6 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
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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 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. then losing the money. i have since come to find out that all those pictures he sent me of himself. we're 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 a rps fraud number that was in their magazine and got a retired detective who was
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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. show thank you. >> okay, thank you for sharing your personal story. it was a moving story when i read it, but ever more so we hear it from you , we are just grateful you're
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here with us. i think we're going to try miss daniel again to see if she's connected. show >> yeah, sorry about that chairman, casey ranking member, tim scott and distinguished members of the committee. thank you for the opportunity to testify today on a topic of fraud scams and covid 19 how con artists have targeted older americans during the pandemic. my name is steve daniel. 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 of the better business bureau of the upstate and the better business bureau. education foundation of the position i've held since 2000 and 11, b b b is a nonprofit promoting 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
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dad would always say call the bbb. after a few weeks on the job, i received an invitation to speak to a senior group about the latest scams. i'll never forget that day i spoke to those seniors and listen to their scam stories. it was heartbreaking. i learned to speak louder, ask questions, listen and the most important part was realizing education is the key to fight and senior fraud. that's when i knew this role with the bbb was the perfect fit for me since that day. i never turn down an opportunity to speak to educate seniors. in 2015 we dubbed the program savvy seniors because that's what we wanted to achieve. during the pandemic. we witnessed new scams that involve mask non fda approved medical supplies, immunity boosting products and equipment through online purchases related to covid 19. we have also seen fake websites, fish and emails and embarked stimulus checks, price gouging scammers, impersonating government agencies like medicaid and promoting fake
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vaccines. we've also seen an increase in romance scans. during covid 19 b. b. b. s across the country rallied to rally together to put out fraud prevention messages and we did thousands of media interviews to try to warn consumers about all covid related scams. we were seeing senior groups were not able to meet during covid 19 so we partner with our local appalachian council of government screenful office and meals on wheels to provide 1000 bbb savvy senior package that included education information on fraud and scams. as part of a larger national effort, the bbb of the upstate has hosted, secure your i. d. day since 2009. local bbb s from all across the united states and canada joined in on the event designed to protect consumers from the growing threat of identity theft and provide education, consumer and business are encouraged to attend the free community service event and properly shared shred and destroy sensitive documents. in
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2000 and 18 bb of the upstate partner with aarp south carolina and from that partnership we have increased our shred events from now. four to now. eight events a year. last week we held two events, one in greenville and one in saint anderson with two happening in october in spartanburg and simpsonville. in our area. about 90% of attendees are seniors bbb scam tracker is an online platform that enables consumers and business to report scam and suspicious activities. the data is analyzed, reports are made available to the general public, thus empowering consumers to avoid losing money to scammers. the website features a searchable heat man. so a heat map. excuse me. so users can view the number types and details about scammers scams reported in their communities. bbb scam tracker data enables local bbs to educate consumers and stop fraudsters by leveraging the power of technology and our network of
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bbb serving communities throughout north america and canada. using data from the bbb scam tracker, our foundation, the bbb institute for marketplace trust really released a report on the rise of online scams during the covid 19. the bbb risk index is a formula that looks at scams in a different way. the volume of each type of scam reported to bbb scam tracker the susceptibility rate that is how people who are exposed to the can't scam actually lose money and the dollar loss. that formula shows us scams are the riskiest and it and it may not be for the scam with the most reports. for instance, romance scams were the riskiest for ages 55-64 followed by online purchases and investment scams. travel vacation timeshare scams with the riskiest for ages 65 plus followed by online purchases and romance scams
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since bbb became tracking scams in the way this way in 2016 we were 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 the type of scams that target seniors. romance scams, investment scams, family emergency scams to be the higher dollar amounts. although many seniors have gotten the message and are more cautious than in the past. too many are still falling victim to unscrupulous criminals. b. b. b. is proud of the role we play in the educating seniors and all the consumers 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 a relevant topic of how con artists have targeted old americans during the pandemic.
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>> mrs daniel. thanks so much for your testimony. well, i want to acknowledge two members of the committee who are here or 1 1 who's been here and we'll be back. i guess senator collins is here with us. um ranking member scott made reference senator collins to the years when you were chair and producing the fraud and scams book the that the committee has been using for so many years. so, we thank you for being here. senator braun was with us earlier and i want to acknowledge senator bronze attendance at the hearing and maybe we'll be back here. so 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. mhm.


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