Anti-fraud efforts must include senior living, hearing witness says

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Anti-fraud efforts must include senior living, hearing witness says
Anti-fraud efforts must include senior living, hearing witness says

Efforts to stop or prevent the financial exploitation of older adults should include assisted living and continuing care retirement / life plan communities, as well as personal care and nursing homes, because residents in such settings are targeted, a hearing witness told members of the Senate Special Committee on Aging on Wednesday during their first meeting of the 115th Congress.

Diane A. Menio, executive director of the Center for Advocacy for the Rights & Interests of the Elderly in Philadelphia, shared the story of an 80-year-old CCRC resident, Arlene, who wired more than $800,000 to scammers after they called her cell phone and told her that she had won a prize in an international lottery.

“She set up a new bank account, transferring funds from a combined brokerage/bank account. She finally realized she was a victim after her new bank called the Pennsylvania Department of Aging and a protective services worker visited her,” Menio said. “She had not told her family about this. The scammers told her to keep it a secret and it would be a wonderful surprise.”

The resident's only asset now is her monthly retirement income, Menio said. “She cleared out the savings that she and her husband had saved a lifetime,” she added.

Scams involving sweepstakes or the Jamaican lottery were the second most common type reported to a Senate Special Committee on Aging fraud hotline in 2016, according to a “Fighting Fraud” report released at the hearing. Such scams were the subject of 124 of the 2,282 calls made to the hotline last year. By far, the most common type of scam reported was the IRS impersonation scam, which accounted for 1,680 (74%) of cases, according to the report.

Fraud awareness seems to be increasing, said Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), chairwoman of the committee. The number of calls to the fraud hotline more than doubled from 2015, she noted.

In addition to listing the top 10 scams reported to the committee's hotline, the report also includes information on how to recognize, avoid and report scams, Collins said. Financial schemes and scams are one of three areas of focus for the committee this year, she added. The other two areas of focus will be retirement security and biomedical research investments for diseases such as Alzheimer's and diabetes, which disproportionately affect older adults.

Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA), the committee's new ranking member, used the occasion to mention the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The necessity of the bureau has been questioned by some Republicans, but “the CFPB houses the only federal office solely focused on sharing financial information with seniors and educating seniors about how prevent becoming the victim of fraud,” he said.

Casey also advocated for portions of the Affordable Care Act meant to fight healthcare fraud and abuse.

“The government has realized a record-breaking $10.7 billion in recoveries of healthcare fraud in the last three years,” he said. “Thanks to the ACA, we have new tools like increased federal sentencing guidelines for healthcare fraud and enhanced screening for providers and suppliers who may pose a higher risk of fraud or abuse. And the law provides an additional $350 million over 10 years to boost anti-fraud efforts.

“We also know that proposals to block grant Medicaid could present states with a significant barrier to addressing waste, fraud and abuse in the program,” Casey continued. “Block grants could jeopardize funding for program integrity resources, as states would lose federal program integrity resources that currently go along with Medicaid matching dollars.”

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