Column | Taking care of aging Americans
I recently I met with Tucson resident, Maggie Dickens, whose parents tragically lost their entire life savings – more than $750,000 in a devastating scam. Maggie’s parents were manipulated into believing that they had won a sweepstakes but were told that before they could collect, they had to pay taxes on their winnings. Posing as IRS agents and Homeland Security officials, called their house with spoofed caller IDs. They told the couple that they had to keep their good fortune a secret until they paid the IRS the taxes due. They even went as far as sending taxis to their house to collect.
The story of Maggie’s parents isn’t rare. In fact, financial fraud targeting seniors is a growing epidemic and it costs older Americans about $2.9 billion every single year. Even more troubling is that number is likely far higher, as many never report that they are a victim because they are too ashamed to report abuse -- particularly when a family member is the abuser.
I also heard from another Tucson resident, who was manipulated into handing over $67,000 to scammers after being convinced she was wanted for high crimes. This devastated her. It wiped her entire retirement savings account clean. She was left relying on family and friends to support her, a burden no family expects or wants. Far too often, I hear stories of residents in our very own communities who have experienced fraud and are scared, alone, and without the proper knowledge to protect themselves.
Too many of our seniors are forgotten as they begin to leave the workforce and enter into their “golden years.” We should honor aging Americans and ensure that they are taken care of, giving them the tools necessary to protect themselves financially, physically, and emotionally.
We have a duty to care for those in our community, especially those who feel powerless in the face of evil. As part of that effort, I am leading the Senior Legal Hotline Act that would dedicate funding for hotlines to provide legal advice to seniors. This would be a safe haven for elders who feel that they been taken advantage of but do not know where to turn. This would also give those who have fallen victim to fraud a place where they would not feel ashamed, and instead, receive advice and comfort.
I have also helped to introduce another solution, the Anti-Spoofing Penalties Modernization Act of 2019 that will aid Americans, like Maggie’s parents, by doubling the penalties on those who spoof caller-IDs from $10,000 to $20,000 per violation and increasing the maximum fine from $1 million to $2 million.
Aging Americans deserve to be treated with dignity and respect and our younger generations are better off when they have access to the experience and wisdom of our seniors. It is past time for us to remember that and work to bridge the gap between our seniors and our younger generations. We also have the duty to provide the necessary resources and education for our seniors to excel in their golden years, avoid poverty, and remain independent.
I look forward continuing to find common sense ways to protect seniors while making sure that we all have the tools to ensure all Americans have the opportunity to live long and enjoyable lives.