Congress Promotes Fraud Awareness with Special Hotline for Seniors

Beyond the Numbers

Date: 
Friday, January 16, 2015
Posted by: 
The Communications Division

Where and how do senior citizens report fraud?

Well, according to the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), 75 percent of fraud victims age 55 and over don’t report fraud—at all. 

Fraud perpetrated against seniors in the United States is on the rise, and victims are often unsure of where to find help. AARP estimates that older Americans lose $2.9 billion annually because of fraud.

The U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging has worked to protect older Americans from fraud.  As part of their efforts, the Committee launched its own Fraud Hotline in November 2013. The Hotline fields fraud allegations—from older Americans and their family members—and shares valuable information about fraud prevention.

Information gathered by the Hotline has provided a real-time glimpse into the nature and variety of schemes targeting seniors. The Committee has used this data to focus its investigations, hearings, and outreach efforts to protect seniors.

According to a recent Aging Committee Report on lessons learned after the Hotline’s first year of operation, Committee staff responded to more than 1,900 calls and obtained details of common fraud schemes, including:

  • computer scams; 
  • grandparent scams;
  • health-related scams;
  • identity theft;
  • lottery schemes; and
  • Social Security fraud.

Some victims’ experiences fell into multiple categories of fraud schemes. For example, an identity theft victim’s information could be used to redirect their Social Security payments.

The Committee learned—which we’ve detailed in this space before—that identity thieves will attempt to change a victim’s Social Security benefit payment information, redirecting benefits to other accounts or prepaid debit cards. If they’ve obtained an individual’s personal information, they may also try to establish a my Social Security account in the victim’s name. The online account provides access to benefit payment information.  

Social Security fraud allegations reported to the Committee’s Hotline included:

  • Anna, a senior from Arizona, who was worried she was victim of fraud when her monthly Social Security benefit was not in her bank account. Anna depended on her Social Security benefit to pay for rent and groceries. Anna contacted SSA and learned that her address and direct deposit information had been changed. A Hotline staff member referred Anna to the local SSA field office to freeze her account, to file for a critical benefit payment, and to report the allegation to us for investigation. 
  • James from Illinois realized that he was a victim of fraud after receiving a confirmation letter for opening an online my Social Security account. A fraudster, using James’ information, created the online account, then requested that SSA redirect James’ Social Security payment to another bank account. Because James immediately contacted SSA, the fraud was discovered and his local field office corrected his bank information. James called the Hotline to share his experience.

Information gathered via this special Hotline and the work of the Committee has brought about important changes. For instance, Committee efforts caused two of the three primary providers of prepaid debit cards to discontinue the “PIN” method of reloading prepaid cards—citing concerns over fraudsters stealing seniors’ PINs and using them in fraud schemes. A third prepaid debit card provider also installed enhanced security measures to mitigate fraud risks. 

These changes, along with various Congressional outreach efforts, create safeguards that protect Social Security beneficiaries from identity theft and fraud.

According to the Aging Committee’s Hotline report, almost 90 percent of people age 65 and over receive some income from Social Security. Without their monthly Social Security benefits, some seniors would be unable to purchase day-to-day necessities. Further, without their Social Security benefits, about 44 percent of seniors would have incomes below the poverty line.

We and Congress know seniors are regularly targeted by fraudsters, so we must continue to reach out and inform them about schemes and provide outlets for assistance. 

If you suspect fraud is being perpetuated against a senior citizen in your family or community, please contact the OIG Fraud Hotline (http://oig.ssa.gov/report or 1-800-269-0271) or the Senate Special Committee on Aging’s Fraud Hotline (www.aging.senate.gov/fraud-hotline or 1-855-303-9470).