Scams and Fraud

7/13/2022 | By Susan J. Wells

A new federal task force, the Senior Scam Prevention Advisory Group, has been tasked with training workers in retail and financial service to recognize scams and prevent senior fraud.

Tucked into the 2022 Omnibus Appropriations bill that President Joe Biden signed into law earlier this year is a little-known measure that aims to tackle the financial exploitation of seniors by recruiting a new army to fight it: the clerks and shopkeepers that seniors interact with during their usual errands.

The legislation creates a new task force, the Senior Scam Prevention Advisory Group, with representatives from government agencies and consumer and industry groups.

Cynics might roll their eyes at the formation of another watchdog, but some experts say this group has the potential to kick things up a notch. The group has been given the job of developing a training program that teaches retailers and financial services to recognize scams and stop senior fraud before it happens.

In the past, educational and prevention efforts have been directed mainly at seniors and bank tellers, but Erin Witte, director of consumer protection at the Consumer Federation of America, thinks training industry stakeholders can fortify the front lines in a growing battle. “These companies are often in a position to help prevent consumers from losing money to a scam,” she says.

frustrated couple on laptop. Photo by Fizkes, Dreamstime. A federal task force, Senior Scam Prevention Advisory Group, will train people in retail and finance to spot scams and prevent senior fraud.

Consumers who buy a lot of gift cards at once, often with a high-dollar value, are a red flag to store clerks or managers who know that the cards are often a scammer’s preferred method of payment. That intervention, though, currently only happens about 25% of the time, according to an AARP report. But it’s a crucial moment because AARP also finds that more than half the time a third party intervenes in an attempted financial exploitation, the potential victims avoid losing money.

At the same time, the act creates a new Senior Fraud Advisory Office within the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. This office aims to “reform the FTC complaint system and enhance fraud surveillance through better coordination with law enforcement agencies,” says Dawit Kahsai, senior legislative representative at AARP. For instance, the office has orders to actively monitor the latest fraud schemes and use that information for targeted outreach not only to seniors but their families and caregivers, too. A dedicated website of identified senior scams and resources is also part of the plan.

Related: 71-year-old stops a Norton LifeLock-BBB scam

Still, thwarting the $5.89 billion in consumer fraud losses reported to the FTC last year (up 70% from pandemic-fueled scams in 2020) is a massive undertaking.

Although alerting people can reduce the risk of financial harm, some older adults never get these warnings and succumb to the pressure of bad actors. In a recent case in Georgia, for example, an accountant at an Atlanta-based wealth management firm pleaded guilty to federal charges of embezzling $800,000 from an elderly client with dementia that the accountant befriended over 10 years.

Finding new ways to prevent senior fraud cases like this one is a big focus of the legislation, and it’s why Witte is hopeful that the new measures will have an impact. “Prevention is critical to protecting consumers because once the scammer has stolen the money it’s very difficult to get back,” she says.

© 2022 The Kiplinger Washington Editors, Inc. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Related: Visit the Seniors Guide Scams and Fraud Bulletins for more informative articles

Susan J. Wells

Susan J. Wells is a contributing writer at Kiplinger's Retirement Report. For more on this and similar money topics, visit