RELEASE: As Part of Senior Security Strategy, Gottheimer Announces New Action to Combat Senior Scams on Social Media and More

Urges Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram to take stronger action against scammers and fraudsters. Introduces new legislation to equip states against senior scammers

May 06, 2024
Press

Above: Gottheimer announces new action against senior scams as part of Senior Security Strategy.

FAIR LAWN, NJ — Today, May 6, 2024, U.S. Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5) visited Fair Lawn Senior Center to announce new action against senior scammers as part of his Senior Security Strategy, specifically targeting fraudsters on social media.

According to the FBI’s 2023 Elder Fraud Report, seniors had more than $3.4 billion stolen from senior scams last year. More than 100,000 seniors reported that they were victims of scams last year, losing a heartbreaking average of $33,915. Tragically, about 6,000 seniors lost more than $100,000. More than 2,000 seniors in Jersey reported scams to the FBI last year. 

Social media platforms have become major hubs for fraud and financial exploitation. According to the Federal Trade Commission, Americans lost $2.7 billion in social media scams between 2021 and 2023, four times as much as fraudsters stole in website scams and a billion more than email scams. The Federal Trade Commission estimates that one-fourth of all successful scams originate on social platforms. 

Video of Gottheimer’s remarks here

“I’m sounding the alarm about one of the biggest issues facing older Americans: senior scams and announcing new action against social media companies and others to help crack down on this runaway abuse of Jersey seniors,” said Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5). “Scams are one of the first topics that I hear about when I come to chat with older constituents at senior centers like this one. Fraudsters are using every trick in the book — social media, email, and phone — to swindle our seniors out of billions of dollars every year.” 

To open the event, both Bergen County Sheriff Anthony Cureton and Fair Lawn Mayor Gail Rottenstrich highlighted some of the concerning scams preying on Jersey seniors.

“Recently, we’ve been dealing with seniors getting phone calls regarding active warrants for their arrest and/or active warrants for their family wanting them to bring cash,” said Bergen County Sheriff Anthony Cureton. “Of course, we tell all the seniors as well as anybody else, if anyone from the Sheriff’s Office comes to your home, looking for cash to settle a warrant, please, it doesn’t exist. We do not do that, and law enforcement overall doesn’t do that.”

“My own mother was a victim of the grandparents scam. My son was away for a year traveling, and she got a phone call, and to her, it was his voice. She heard his voice saying that he was in jail, and he needed her to send money. And, she did,” said Fair Lawn Mayor Gail Rottenstrich. “We need to do everything we can do to protect our loving grandparents from scams like this, and I’m so happy that the Congressman has a plan that’s going to work to do this.”

Gottheimer’s New Action to Protect Seniors from Scams Includes:

  1. Sending a letter to Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter/X CEO Linda Yaccarino, urging them to take stronger action against senior scammers on their social media platforms. Gottheimer urged Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to:
    • Add warning labels on fraudulent content and accounts that have been flagged as potential senior scammers. Locating these accounts and posts should be done through crowdsourcing and artificial intelligence. 
    • Highlight senior scams and fraud as a main option for reporting. Provide information about reporting scams and frauds to law enforcement (e.g. the contact information for the FBI’s Elder Fraud hotline) as part of the reporting flow.
    • Throttle the reach and messaging abilities of accounts that have been flagged for senior scams, fraudulent behavior, impersonation, and other forms of deception.
  1. Introducing the bipartisan, bicameral Empowering States to Protect Seniors Against Bad Actors Act with Representative Zach Nunn (IA-3) and Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD). 
    • The bill will establish a grant program at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission or SEC to invest in states’ scams responses. 
    • States will be able to then staff up their scam enforcement offices, invest in cutting-edge technology, develop educational resources that inform the public about scams, and create forward-thinking strategies to combat financial exploitation and fraud targeting seniors.
  1. Co-leading a resolution to designate Thursday, May 9th as National Scam Survivor Day with Representative Bryan Steil (WI-1). The resolution recognizes the impact of scams on survivors, including seniors, and urges greater action to stop scams at the source.

The bipartisan Empowering States to Protect Seniors Against Bad Actors Act is co-led by Congressman Zach Nunn (IA-3) and has already received broad support from leading senior advocates and financial planning leaders, including the North American Securities Administrators Association (NASAA), National Council on the Aging, Consumer Federation of America, American Council of Life Insurers, Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, Inc., Financial Services Institute, Insured Retirement Institute, Investment Company Institute, Public Investors Advocate Bar Association, National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors, Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, Lincoln Financial Group, Nationwide, Edward Jones, National Association of Insurance Commissioners, and Elder Justice Coalition.

“Ensuring Iowan’s life savings are protected isn’t a partisan matter – it’s a matter of right or wrong,” said Congressman Zach Nunn (IA-3). “We’re fighting back against con artists preying on retirees. No one should have to worry about financial fraud during their golden years.”

“State securities regulators have been leaders for decades in the effort to protect older adults from fraudsters and bad actors. The Empowering States to Protect Seniors from Bad Actors Act would be a key tool in regulators’ toolkits to stop scam artists from preying on vulnerable seniors. We proudly support this bipartisan legislation as our members continue to educate and protect older investors,” said NASAA President and Deputy Director of the Nebraska Department of Banking and Finance Claire McHenry. “NASAA appreciates Representative Gottheimer’s and Senator Van Hollen’s continued efforts to secure passage of this important legislation.”

“Scammers’ methods are always evolving, so we support this bill that helps states stay ahead of financial fraud and protect older adults. They keep losing more and more money to these criminal tactics every year, which has devastating consequences. We also need to work with the banking industry to ensure protections and alerts are in place to safeguard people’s hard-earned money,” said National Council on Aging President and CEO Ramsey Alwin.

“Consumer Federation of America (CFA) strongly supports The Empowering States to Protect Seniors from Bad Actors Act,” said CFA Director of Investor Protection Micah Hauptman. “The grants authorized by this legislation would provide much-needed funding to: investigate and prosecute cases involving senior financial fraud; promote technology, equipment, and training for regulators, prosecutors, and law enforcement officers tasked with shutting down senior scams; and provide educational materials to seniors to increase awareness of scams. We urge Congress to pass this important legislation,” Hauptman continued.

Gottheimer’s newly announced action builds on steps he took last year with his Senior Security Strategy. The House unanimously passed Gottheimer’s legislation, the Senior Security Act, last year to help stop financial predators from scamming seniors out of their savings by creating a federal Senior Investor Task Force within the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to strengthen protections and safeguards for senior investors.

Gottheimer was joined by Bergen County Sheriff Anthony Cureton and Fair Lawn Mayor Gail Rottenstrich.

Below: Gottheimer announces new action against senior scams as part of Senior Security Strategy.

Gottheimer’s remarks as prepared for delivery: 

Good morning. It’s great to join you today in Fair Lawn at the Fair Lawn Senior Center.

May is Older Americans Month, a time to recognize the great contributions of those over sixty and to speak out about the issues affecting them. And what better place to talk about the issues facing Jersey seniors than Bergen County, which has the largest population of those over sixty the state — more than 200,000 seniors.

Today, I’m sounding the alarm about one of the biggest issues facing older Americans: senior scams and announcing new action against social media companies and others to help crack down on this runaway abuse of Jersey seniors. Scams are one of the first topics that I hear about when I come to chat with older constituents at senior centers like this one. Fraudsters are using every trick in the book — social media, email, and phone — to swindle our seniors out of billions of dollars every year. 

According to the FBI’s 2023 Elder Fraud Report, seniors had more than $3.4 billion stolen from senior scams last year. That’s billion with a b. More than 100,000 seniors reported that they were victims of scams last year, losing a heartbreaking average of $33,915. Tragically, about 6,000 seniors lost more than $100,000. Just imagine, you’ve worked your whole life, contributing to your retirement and paying your bills, and you lose it all because of a huckster and a fraudulent phone call. Often, these folks who are scammed are on fixed incomes — there’s no room for error in their monthly budgets. A scam or fraud is devastating.

This is deeply personal for me and so many other Americans. One fraudster pretending to be from the IRS even tried to scam my own mother, of blessed memory. More about that in a minute.

A study from the University of Michigan has found that between 2021 and 2023, seventy-five percent of American seniors experienced a scam attempt, and about a third ultimately fell victim to the fraud. Right here in Jersey, more than 2,000 seniors reported scams to the FBI last year. This isn’t just something happening in the headlines. It’s hurting our parents, friends, and neighbors.

The depth and breadth of these frauds are genuinely staggering. Fraudsters prowl dating apps, set up fake tech support lines, and even impersonate government agencies like the IRS or FBI. They’re doing everything from stealing people’s data to forging checks to seeking business investment for ventures that don’t even exist. These criminals target seniors in vulnerable moments, preying on their trust or insecurity, to make a buck. It’s despicable, and it must be stopped.

I want to take a few minutes to walk through some of the most pervasive type of scams — both to flag the level of depravity that we’re dealing with and to help those listening identify red flags in case they ever find themselves on the wrong side of a scam call. 

One of the costliest types of senior scams focuses on investment opportunities. Scammers create fake profiles, making them seem like successful entrepreneurs. They’ll message seniors, building trust with them, before telling them, “You just have to invest in my business.” The only problem is that the business doesn’t exist. They take the seniors’ money and disappear. More than half of the money netted by senior social media scammers last year came from investment scams. 

Scammers are targeting seniors over email and social media. Microsoft 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 their personal and bank information. Seniors who may be unfamiliar with their laptops or phones are especially vulnerable. Scammers will find their targets online, manipulating search engine results, so that someone googling or searching Facebook for “tech support” might accidentally call their phone number. According to the FBI, tech support con artists netted $589.8 million from America’s seniors last year.

Finally, it was recently Tax Day, and you won’t be surprised to learn that scammers are also pretending to be IRS and Social Security Administration agents. The FBI found that government impersonation scams cost our seniors $179.6 million last year. The U.S. Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration has referred to this scheme as “the largest and most pervasive scam in our agency’s history.”

These scammers have a clear script: they’ll claim that they need to update your information on file and ask for your Social Security Number. Often, they’ll ask for money outright, saying you owe back taxes and need to pay via wire transfer, gift cards, or a prepaid debit card. That’s exactly what happened to my 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 actually paid it?

These scams don’t just cost money, they leave real psychological scars. Fraudsters can be incredibly manipulative and predatory. They use voice technology to sound like a senior’s grandchild, threaten seniors’ lives, and instill fear in seniors that law enforcement will arrest them. It’s gut-wrenching. In 2021, two seniors took their own lives in Alabama because they were so traumatized and ashamed by scams. These scams are literally costing lives. I don’t know how these fraudsters look at themselves in the mirror. How could you do that to an innocent grandparent?  

Last year, AARP reported that senior scams have more than doubled since 2020. We cannot let these fraudsters do any more damage with their appalling schemes. Seniors need a cop on the beat, and we’re here today to do something about it.

I have been squarely focused on protecting our seniors from scams since I first entered office, introducing legislation and working with partners to put a stop to this fraud. Last year, I announced my Senior Security Strategy, which takes clear, concrete steps to protect our beloved seniors in Jersey from getting swindled. Today, I’m building on my Senior Security Strategy with three new, important steps. 

First, as part of my Senior Scam Strategy, we need to do everything we can to stop senior scams on social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Social media platforms have become major hubs for fraud and financial exploitation. Americans lost $2.7 billion in social media scams between 2021 and 2023: that’s four times as much as website scams and a billion more than email scams. The Federal Trade Commission estimates that one-fourth of all scams originate on social platforms. 

This affects seniors, specifically, because 75 percent of Americans over 65 are Internet users, and nearly half are on social media — a 400 percent increase over the past decade. Given the reach of social platforms, your run-of-the-mill con artist can become a Pablo Picasso of senior scams, making several times as much through a social media fraud than they would via phone or email.

These platforms have to do a better job of spotting and stopping senior scammers. That’s why I’m sending a letter this week to Mark Zuckerberg at Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, and Linda Yaccarino at X, urging them to be a partner in our fight against fraud, not a safe haven for senior scammers. My letter asks these platforms to do three things.

They should add warning labels on fraudulent content targeting seniors and accounts that have been flagged as potential senior scammers, just like we saw during the COVID-19 pandemic. These platforms can use a mix of crowdsourcing and artificial intelligence to label the posts.

Social media platforms also need to highlight senior scams and fraud as a main, easy-to-use and find option for reporting, rather than burying it in a hidden menu. They should also provide seniors with information about reporting scams and frauds to law enforcement, like the contact information for the FBI’s Elder Fraud hotline when seniors go to file reports.

Finally, social media platforms must limit the reach and messaging abilities of accounts that have been flagged for senior scams, fraudulent behavior, impersonation, and other forms of deception. You can’t let the bad guys keep doing bad stuff. 

Second, as part of my Senior Scam Strategy, I will be introducing my new bipartisan, bicameral legislation, the Empowering States to Protect Seniors from Bad Actors Act. I’m proud to lead on this issue with my friends and colleagues Congressman Zach Nunn of Iowa and Senator Chris Van Hollen of Maryland. This legislation makes sure that we’re investing in solutions to stop senior fraud at the source.

Specifically, the bill will establish a grant program at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission or SEC to invest in states’ scams responses. States will be able to then staff up their scam enforcement offices, invest in cutting-edge technology, develop educational resources that inform the public about scams, and create forward-thinking strategies to combat financial exploitation and fraud targeting seniors.

States are doing all they can to crack down on fraudsters, but they don’t have the resources to mount an adequate defense. This grant program will close the gap and help protect our seniors’ hard earned tax dollars. I’m proud to share that this bill is supported by some of our country’s strongest advocates for seniors, including the National Council on Aging and the Consumer Federation of America.

Finally, it’s important that the seniors who have fallen victim to scams know that they’re not alone. There’s nothing to be ashamed about. My colleagues and I empathize with you, and we’re here for you. In fact, my office has, and can, work with you in the aftermath of a fraud, helping you contact a federal agency or financial institution.

To remove some of the stigma facing senior scam victims, I’m leading a bipartisan resolution to designate this Thursday, May 9th as National Scam Survivor Day with my colleague Congressman Bryan Steil of Wisconsin. This legislation makes it clear that we’re all on the same team in the fight against senior scammers and must work together — law enforcement, the private sector, and nonprofits — to stand up for senior scam survivors. We will hold these fraudsters and criminals accountable.

Helping seniors isn’t a Democratic or Republican issue. My Senior Security Strategy, including the steps I announced today, is something that my colleagues on both sides of the aisle can get behind.

This May, as we celebrate older Americans and reaffirm our commitment to serving them, let’s make sure we keep an eye out for scams. In the spirit of information, I’ll leave our seniors with the following tip. If you ever find yourself as the victim of a scam, please call the FBI’s National Elder Fraud Hotline: 1-833-FRAUD-11 or 1-833-372-8311. Reporting these scams is the first step to getting justice. Professionals are on the line, Monday through Friday, to help you and support you through this difficult time. You can also contact my office. My door is always open to you. 

By working together to protect our seniors, I know our best days will always be ahead of us.

Thank you, God bless you, and may God continue to bless the United States of America.

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