RELEASE: Gottheimer Announces New Senior Security Strategy to Combat Robocalls, Financial Scams

House Set to Vote this Week on Gottheimer’s Bipartisan Senior Scam Bill. Sending Letter to FCC Demanding Phone Company Compliance with Anti-Robocall Technology.

 

Above: Gottheimer joined by local seniors and officials to announce his new Senior Security Strategy.

HACKENSACK, NJ — Today, May 9, 2022, U.S. Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5) announced his new Senior Security Strategy at a Bergen County senior center — to help end financial scams targeting our seniors, including stopping the unending stream of robocalls and unwanted texts. 

Bergen County has the largest population of people aged 60 and over in the state — with more than 200,000, accounting for more than 20% of the county’s population.

Senior scams, including harassing robocalls and phone calls impersonating the government, cost older Americans nearly $3 billion a year and cause harm and anxiety for our seniors.

Last year, about seven million Americans reported being a victim of financial exploitation. In April 2022, Americans received more than 3.9 billion robocalls, keeping 2022 on pace to hit 48 billion robocalls for the full year and averaging roughly 4 billion robocalls a month. 

Since 2013, more than 16,000 taxpayers have lost more than $83 million total from scammers impersonating IRS officials. 

Gottheimer’s Senior Security Strategy takes three key steps to help protect older Americans in New Jersey and nationwide from getting scammed out of their hard-earned money.   

Gottheimer’s Senior Security Strategy:

  1. This week, the U.S. House of Representatives is set to vote on Gottheimer’s bipartisan legislation, the Empowering States to Protect Seniors from Bad Actors Act. The bill will create a new Senior Investor Protection Grant Program to support state enforcement agencies and task forces charged with protecting and educating seniors on financial fraud. They will be able to hire additional investigative staff, invest in equipment and training for law enforcement, and educate seniors on financial scams. Senators Chris Van Hollen, Tim Scott, Raphael Warnock, and Cynthia Lummis have already introduced the bipartisan companion bill in the Senate.
  2. Gottheimer’s new legislation set for a vote this week builds on his bipartisan, bicameral legislation, the Senior Security Act, which passed the House last year. The Senior Security Act will create a Senior Investor Taskforce at the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) that will exclusively focus on how seniors are being targeted by fraudsters who seek to take financial advantage of them. Every two years, the Taskforce will submit a report to Congress outlining trends and innovations — like robocalls and voice spoofing — that are impacting senior investors, helping us stay ahead of changes in financial scams as they arise. It was introduced in the Senate by Senator Kyrsten Sinema, and Gottheimer is urging his colleagues in the Senate to take immediate action to give seniors the critical tools needed to fight scammers.
  3. In a letter, Gottheimer will ask the FCC which phone companies have and have not yet implemented anti-robocall technology required by the bipartisan TRACED Act, which he helped pass into law. Gottheimer is urging the FCC to take immediate action against non-compliant phone companies that missed last year’s deadline for large carriers and still have not fully implemented new robocall-fighting technology. Some phone companies have not adopted the anti-robocall technology required by law, or have only partially implemented the technology.

“Millions of seniors across the country, including my own mother, have been the victims of financial scams, and far too many have been cheated out of their retirement savings. Every few weeks, when I get a call from someone who fell prey to a shameless huckster, there’s often a robocall somewhere involved in that scam,” said Congressman Josh Gottheiemer (NJ-5). “Our seniors should be spending time with their kids, grandkids, and friends — not staying up late at night worrying about whether someone is preying on their retirement nest egg. Seniors need a cop on the beat and we’re here today to do something about it.”

“Going back in the last couple years, I've experienced repeated calls, sometimes multiple times a day. I received a couple of calls that I brought to the Congressman’s attention, saying that due to IRS payment problems I was about to be the subject of litigation,” said Thomas Lechner, a Fifth District senior from Hackensack.

The month of May is national Older Americans Month. Gottheimer was joined at the United Center/Americas Unidas Multicultural Senior Center today by NJ State Assemblywoman Ellen Park, Executive Director of the Bergen County Division of Senior Services Lorraine Joewono, Fifth District resident Thomas Lechner, and local Bergen County seniors.

Video of the announcement can be found here.

Below: Gottheimer announcing his new Senior Security Strategy at United Center/Americas Unidas Multicultural Senior Center.

 

 

Gottheimer’s remarks as prepared for delivery: 

It’s great to be at the senior center here in Hackensack during Older Americans Month, originally started by President John F. Kennedy in 1963. Believe it or not, Bergen County has the largest population of people aged 60 and over in the state — more than 200,000 — and they account for more than 20 percent of Bergen’s population.
 
And yet, folks in Jersey over 60 are the number one target in the country of senior scams. And those scams come in all shapes and sizes. Harassing robocalls, people impersonating grandkids in trouble, the IRS, your credit card company, and the FBI. These senior scams cost older Americans $3 billion a year, often hitting their retirement nest eggs — not to mention the pain and anxiety you can’t put a dollar amount on. 
 
That’s why I’m here today to announce my new Senior Security Strategy — to make sure we’re doing everything we can to end financial scams targeting our seniors, including stopping the unending stream of robocalls and unwanted texts.
 
It is absolutely heartbreaking to hear — day in and day out — how fraudsters and hucksters have gone after our seniors’ hard-earned savings. No senior, especially here in New Jersey, should ever have to worry that picking up the phone could mean being scammed out of thousands of dollars. Unfortunately, for too many members of our communities, that’s exactly what is happening. 
 
Millions of seniors across the country, including my own mother, have been the victims of financial scams, and far too many have been cheated out of their retirement savings. 
 
We just heard from Thomas, from right here in Hackensack, about the aggressive phone calls he was getting from the so-called “Social Security” Administration. They were threatening legal action if he didn’t call back and give his personal information. Can you imagine what type of person would try to steal from a senior? I don’t know how they sleep at night. 
 
Thomas, unfortunately, isn’t alone. A survey from the Investor Protection Trust found that, last year, about seven million Americans reported being a victim of financial exploitation. What’s worse is that only one in every twenty-four cases of elder exploitation actually gets reported. And it’s not just those posing as Social Security Administration agents.  
 
IRS impersonation calls and fraudulent tech support calls are among the most widely used and costly scams targeting older Americans.
 
In fact, according to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, more than 2.5 million Americans have been targeted by scammers impersonating IRS officials. Since 2013, more than 16,000 taxpayers have lost more than $83 million total from this type of scam alone. 
 
They’ll say that you owe back taxes or other fees, sometimes even threatening these victims with arrest unless they provide money via prepaid debit cards, gift cards, money orders, or wire transfers. That’s exactly what happened to my own mom; someone claiming to be an IRS agent threatened her. I remember, she called me and claimed that I messed up on her tax return. And my mom wasn’t exactly a shrinking violet. Luckily, we figured it out and stopped that “IRS agent’ in his tracks. But how many others paid? 
 
The U.S. Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration has referred to this as “the largest and most pervasive scam in our agency’s history.” 
 
Microsoft also estimates that more than 3 million Americans are victims of technical support scams, where scammers pretend to be with a reputable tech company and persuade seniors to provide personal and bank information. These folks live on fixed incomes. After working their entire lives to support their families and save for retirement, they get cheated out of the dollars they’ve worked so hard to earn.
 
Some scammers claim to be family members, including grandchildren – and they use personal data and even voice impersonation to sound convincing. The technology exists today to sound just like your grandson or granddaughter calling you for help with an emergency. The caller, pretending to be little Johnny, knows details about you and them from the Internet. Can you imagine how scary or heart-wrenching that is for a grandparent?
 
It’s appalling. It’s offensive. It’s unacceptable. Seniors need a cop on the beat and we’re here today to do something about it. 
 
My Senior Security Strategy is just that cop on the beat we need — taking three concrete steps to help protect older Americans in Jersey from getting scammed out of their hard-earned money. Our seniors should be spending time with their kids, grandkids, and friends — not staying up late at night worrying about whether someone is preying on their retirement nest egg. 
 
First, we need to do more to educate and better protect seniors from these financial scams. This week, the U.S. House of Representatives will vote on my bipartisan legislation, the Empowering States to Protect Seniors from Bad Actors Act that will create a new Senior Investor Protection Grant Program to support state enforcement agencies and task forces charged with protecting and educating seniors on financial fraud. They will be able to hire additional investigative staff, invest in equipment and training for law enforcement, and educate seniors on financial scams.
 
Senators Chris Van Hollen, Tim Scott, Raphael Warnock, and Cynthia Lummis have already introduced a bipartisan companion bill in the Senate.
 
I’m confident that with this work at the state level, with more outreach to local communities and seniors, we can more fully fight back against those hucksters who are scamming our seniors.
 
But the fight doesn’t stop there. 
 
Second, this new legislation builds on my bipartisan, bicameral legislation called the Senior Security Act that passed the House last year. It was introduced in the Senate by Senator Kyrsten Sinema, and is a key part of my overall Senior Security Strategy. 
 
The Senior Security Act will create a Senior Investor Taskforce at the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) that will exclusively focus on how seniors are being targeted by fraudsters who seek to take financial advantage of them. Every two years, the Taskforce will submit a report to Congress outlining trends and innovations — like robocalls and voice spoofing — that are impacting senior investors, helping us stay ahead of changes in financial scams as they arise.
 
I’m urging my colleagues in the Senate to take immediate action to give seniors the critical tools needed to fight scammers.
 
Third, and finally, as part of our Senior Security Strategy, we must do everything we can to go after the tools these hucksters are using, and stop them from impersonating the Social Security Administration, the IRS, the FBI – you name it.  Every few weeks, when I get a call from someone who fell prey to a shameless huckster, there’s often a robocall somewhere involved in that scam. 
 
Not only are they beyond annoying, as we all know, but they’re often used to lure older Americans into a financial scam. All over North Jersey, residents, and especially our seniors, are being preyed on by annoying, but dangerous, robocalls looking to cheat them out of their hard-earned money. 
 
In April, Americans received more than 3.9 billion robocalls, keeping 2022 on pace to hit 48 billion robocalls for the full year and averaging roughly 4 billion robocalls a month. 
 
Over the last few years, we’ve taken concrete action in Congress. In 2019, I helped pass the bipartisan Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence Act, known as the TRACED Act, which required phone companies to verify that the caller ID matches the caller’s real phone number. It also required companies to offer call-authentication technology, as well as opt-in or opt-out robocall blocking to consumers at no additional charge. And it helps the enforcing agency, the Federal Communications Commission, or the FCC, to trace-back and cut-off suspect phone companies responsible for sending vast numbers of unlawful robocalls.
 
A big reason that we haven’t stopped robocalls is because some phone companies have not adopted the anti-robocall technology required by law, or have only partially implemented the technology. The FCC just isn’t acting fast enough, and neither are the phone companies responsible for taking action to stop those endless calls. 
 
June 30, 2021 was the official deadline for large carriers to install this technology to combat robocalls.
 
Today, I’m calling on the FCC to take immediate action against phone companies that missed last year’s deadline and still haven’t fully implemented new robocall-fighting technology. It is required by law under the bipartisan TRACED Act, and it’s time it was followed.
 
No excuses. 
 
Later this week, I’ll be sending a letter to the FCC asking for a status check on which phone companies have and have not implemented this required anti-robocall technology. I will also urge the Commission to take concrete action against non-compliant phone companies.
 
After all, why should these companies get a pass? We don’t get a pass when the phone companies ask us to pay our phone bills. If we don’t, they shut off service. It’s time that the FCC takes action against these non-compliant companies, so that we can tackle the endless robocalls. 
 
Finally, I’d like to leave you with a few tips. 
 
If you receive a call from someone claiming to be from the IRS and demanding payment, make sure you never pay a fine right away. The real IRS will never demand immediate payment, and they will always send you a written notice. The agency also never accepts payments in the form of Western Union or gift cards. Most importantly, the IRS never even initiates contact over the phone. So, if you get a call like that, contact the authorities.
 
Also, if you receive a call from someone who sounds threatening, hang up the phone right away. The IRS will never call to threaten arrest, so you should immediately hang up the phone. Don't engage these people, because you don't know who is on the other end of the line.
 
Please share these tips with your neighbors and ask them if they’ve received similar calls, so we can all remain vigilant against these scams.
 
We all know someone who’s been scammed — whether that’s a senior in your family, a friend, colleague, or in your neighborhood. This is a pervasive national issue that must be addressed. 
 
In today’s environment, working together — whether that’s across the aisle, across the country, or across generations — is the only way to keep our communities safe. That spirit is what America is all about, in the greatest country in the world, and that’s thanks, in no small part, to the hard work our seniors have and continue to put into our nation. 
 
There is nothing partisan about this. Helping seniors isn’t a Democratic or Republican issue. It’s a what’s good for Jersey issue. Older Americans have given so much to this country. We should always have their backs and help protect them from predators who want to take advantage of them. It is incumbent on us to protect them from scammers and abuse.  That’s what my Senior Security Strategy is all about. 
 
Our seniors have given us so much. We should make sure their Social Security and Medicare are there for them and that their prescription drugs are more affordable. We need to restore the State and Local Tax Deduction, or SALT, and keep working to lower property taxes to make living here more affordable. And we should look after our veterans, cops, and firefighters to keep our communities safe. 
 
By all of us working together to protect seniors, I know our best days will always be ahead of us.
 
Thank you, God bless you, and may God continue to bless and watch over the United States of America. 
 
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