One day in Duluth, Peggy Hiestand-Harri’s elderly mother picked up the phone to the happy news that she’d won the lottery — $2.5 million and a new Mercedes were heading her way.
But first, the contest organizers needed something from her …
In a matter of days, the phone scammers fleeced the 82-year-old woman out of $47,000 and drove her into bankruptcy. Her story, and thousands more like it, were the driving force behind the Seniors Fraud Prevention Act that passed the Senate last week.
American seniors face a constant barrage of lies and liars trying to separate them from their life savings. Scams flood their phones, computers, mailboxes and inboxes: phony contests, fraudulent charities, fake investment opportunities, “grandchildren” who got in trouble on an overseas trip, predatory home lenders, telemarketers and Ponzi schemes.
“We’re living in a world where we’re afraid to even answer our phones,” said Hiestand-Harri, who has turned her family’s trauma into a public service crusade, volunteering her service as a fraud fighter for the AARP. She worked with state lawmakers to strengthen the state’s response to senior scams and with U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., on the Senate bill to do the same.
“A new fraud scheme designed to target seniors appears almost daily, and in many cases, seniors watch their entire life savings disappear in scams that are specifically designed to target their assets,” Klobuchar said in a statement.
In Hiestand-Harri’s case, the callers preyed on her mother’s trust and loneliness, persuading her to wire money from small banks and shopping centers close to her home, and even to tuck $10,000 into an envelope and mail it off to them. All the while, they used personal information they’d gleaned from her — talking about how much the elderly woman’s son, who loved classic cars, would love the Mercedes, and how useful that lottery money would be to pay off her daughter’s student loans.
“They took all this private information and used it against her,” she said.
The Seniors Fraud Prevention Act, which passed the Senate unanimously, strengthens the federal reporting system for fraud complaints and requires the Federal Trade Commission to monitor the market for fraud schemes targeting seniors.