In the News

St. Joseph News-Press
Ken Newton

When Derek Schmidt first worked as an assistant for the Kansas attorney general’s office about 20 years ago, he got assigned to the consumer protection division, even though he had no particular expertise in the area.

There, he got exposure to various scams that targeted the elderly population of that state.

“It’s the kind of thing that makes your blood boil once you see it,” said Schmidt, now serving his third term as Kansas attorney general.

Schmidt made the comment during a hearing of the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging. The panel focused the session on various aspects of elder fraud.

Also at the hearing, another Kansan, Sen. Jerry Moran, helped introduce legislation to help retailers, banks and other businesses train employees on how to spot scams at the point of sale.

“This legislation would bring key industry and government leaders together to make certain we are doing all we can to protect seniors,” the Republican lawmaker said.

“Our nation’s seniors are among the most vulnerable consumers in this digital age, mistakenly falling victim to scammers that steal their money, identity and dignity.”

He introduced the Stop Senior Scams Act along with Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey, the top Democrat on the Aging Committee. Moran does not sit on the panel, but he chairs a subcommittee that oversees consumer protection laws.

The proposed legislation, endorsed by organizations like AARP and businesses such as Target and Best Buy, would create a council for development of educational materials for retailers and financial institutions, among others.

Schmidt told the committee about a trio of factors that make fraud against the elderly such a growing problem.

Numbers create a target-rich environment, he said. Between 1900 and 2010, the population of Americans over age 65 rose from 5 million to about 40 million.

Generational characteristics also play a role. Schmidt cited his mother.

“She won’t hang up the phone without explaining to someone why she’s going to hang up the phone,” he said. “She feels the need to be polite, and that’s not unique to her.”

Finally, the money available offers rich potential for scammers, the attorney general said.

“The median household wealth of an American family with at least one member 65 and older is somewhere in the range of $240,000,” Schmidt said. “That is the most wealthy, on average, demographic age-wise in the United States ... probably the most wealth concentrated in any age-based demographic in the history of the world.”

Schmidt cited a few steps that seem useful in combating scams against the elderly.

They included educational outreach and not letting pride get in the way of sharing stories about incidents of fraud. Further, he believed it essential to leverage federal-state partnerships and create partnerships with technology companies.

Further, he called multi-disciplinary team approaches “absolutely indispensable” in addressing the problem.

The Aging Committee has a toll-free Fraud Hotline, 855-303-9470.

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