A bipartisan pair of senators sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), urging them to include funding for seniors to be reimbursed for money lost due to COVID scams.
Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, are spearheading bipartisan legislation, Edith’s Bill, to protect seniors who have been cheated out of money in COVID-related scams, to get paid back.
“We need to protect seniors who are especially vulnerable to fraud and abuse by bad actors, and protect the retirement savings they worked so hard over a lifetime to build,” the senators wrote (pdf).
Edith’s Bill would incentivize states to pay back senior victims of fraud through the Crime Victims Fund established by the Department of Justice.
“We urge you to include S. 3487/H.R. 7620, the Edith Shorougian Senior Victims of Fraud Compensation Act, in the next COVID-19 relief package, and thank you for your continued leadership and support on this issue,” the senators wrote.
As of August 9, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) had logged more than 160,000 consumer complaints related to COVID-19 and stimulus payments, two-thirds of them involving fraud or identity theft. Victims have reported losing $105.7 million, with a median loss of $280.
Among issues raised by consumers, the FTC said, are complaints involving “unsubstantiated health claims, robocalls, privacy, and data security concerns, sham charities, online shopping fraud, phishing scams, work-at-home scams, credit scams, and fake mortgage, and student loan relief schemes.”
“In the past months, we have seen an unprecedented proliferation of fraudulent products related to the COVID-19 pandemic, and more than ever before, the Internet is being used as the primary vehicle for marketing these unproven products,” Catherine Hermsen, a senior Food and Drug Administration FDA official, told lawmakers at a July Hearing for the Manufacturing, Trade, and Consumer Protection subcommittee.
Meanwhile, the office of Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) put out a statement Tuesday warning the public at large about COVID-19 related scams.
The senator’s office was made aware of one type of scam, which involves criminals posing as the senator and other public figures offering “emergency grant dollars” in exchange for a percentage of the promised amount. The criminals use the internet to find victims and have been found to cheat people out of anywhere between $450 and $10,000.
“It is a special kind of evil to target vulnerable communities during a pandemic, and these scammers should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” Scott said.
“I have shared what we know with the Department of Justice and encouraged them to take swift action against any and all criminal parties involved. I also want to encourage Americans to be vigilant during these tough times, and to always closely protect their personal and financial information.”
The DOJ website warns people of various means that have been used to scam the public out of money during the pandemic including, antibody testing fraud schemes, individuals claiming to be IRS and Treasury employees, fraudulent offers to sell respiratory masks or other medical devices, telephone calls by individuals posing as government officials or payment facilitators promising CARES Act, claiming you received an overpayment of the stimulus money, and schemes using smartphone apps or websites that claim to be a government office associated with CARES Act programs.