April 9, 2018

Rep. Josh Gottheimer wants crackdown on phone scammers who target seniors

PARK RIDGE — It’s tax season, and state officials are warning residents, particularly seniors, to be hyper-vigilant about calls from scammers posing as IRS employees.

Calls to swindle people out of thousands of dollars by impersonating IRS workers, or even family members, peak during this time of year.

Residents of Atrium Senior Living in Park Ridge listened to Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D–Wyckoff, on Monday as he talked of his plans to ask the Federal Trade Commission to double down on IRS impersonation scams and take urgent action to protect consumers.

“We should not have to worry that picking up the phone, believing you are talking to someone from our government, could mean being scammed out of thousands of dollars,” Gottheimer said.

More than 12,000 victims reported over $60 million in losses nationwide to such scams. In New Jersey, one of the six hardest-hit states in the country, victims reported financial losses of more than $2.6 million last year, the congressman said.

The IRS scam is particularly prevalent and begins with an unsolicited phone call trying to extract information or money from unsuspecting victims. The caller may claim that the person owes back taxes or other fees, sometimes even threatening arrest unless they provide money via prepaid debit cards, gift cards, money orders or wire transfers, Gottheimer said.

Popular scams

Other prevalent scams include the “grandparent scam,” in which the caller impersonates a grandchild in trouble who asks the grandparent to wire money fast, said Lorraine Joewono, director of Bergen County Senior Services.
For the Medicare scam, the caller asks asks for the person’s Social Security number, Joewono said.

No reputable government agency will call a person on the phone, Joewono said. Gottheimer urged seniors to hang up the phone if they receive a threatening or suspicious phone call and not to engage the caller.

“Data shows these IRS scams are successfully and increasingly targeting seniors, many of whom live on fixed incomes after working their entire lives to support their families and save for retirement, only to be cheated out of the funds they’ve worked so hard to earn,” Gottheimer said. “According to the AARP, seniors lose $3 billion each year in savings due to scams.”

Interagency commitment

Gottheimer said this administration needs to adopt a comprehensive, interagency commitment to cracking down on these highly effective impersonation scams.

He said he is requesting detailed information on how the FTC is helping consumers protect themselves during tax season, any recommendations the FTC has for Congress to help improve enforcement and how the FTC partners with state agencies such as the New Jersey Office of Consumer Protection to address the troubling financial crimes.

“Our seniors deserve to know what our government is doing to protect them and what additional steps can be taken to step up the fight,” he said.

Other aspects of the congressman’s “Stopping Senior Scam Plan” include a new Senior Scam Hotline. The hotline will be used to solicit individual cases from seniors who have been scammed. The congressman said he is also asking for the immediate passage of the bipartisan Senior Safe Act to allow financial institutions and advisers to report senior exploitation when they see it.

Atrium resident May Ansanelli, 83, said she received a suspicious phone call from someone asking her for information, including her Social Security number.

She said her reply was: “You give me yours and I’ll give you mine.” The caller immediately hung up.

Other seniors should follow her example, state officials said, and never give out pertinent information over the phone.