Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Congress may remove safeguards protecting seniors from fraud

BY JOE SESTAK JoeSestak.com

JOHNSTOWN — A scam artist stops by your 92-year-old neighbor’s home and repeatedly convinces her to give him $200 on each visit for a “can’t lose” investment. Hearing about it, the local police persuade the scammer to end his fraudulent behavior, but then the city council orders the police to stop their interference with “free market” decisions. True?

Yes. Congress is about to vote on terminating a successful Department of Justice (DOJ) task force known as Operation Choke Point that protects our seniors from comparable financial fraud conducted on a national scale by a number of banks complicit with fraudsters.

Elder abuse – financial, physical and emotional – has been called the crime of the 21st century, an epidemic that is expanding at an alarming rate in Pennsylvania. With the second-highest percentage of seniors among states, the elderly Pennsylvanian who recently had $85,000 drained from his bank accounts as he slipped into dementia is far from an isolated incident.

I saw it in my district as a congressman when Wachovia Bank allowed fraudulent telemarketers to knowingly use the bank’s accounts to steal millions of dollars from elderly victims throughout Pennsylvania; a number of them were my constituents.

A civil court ordered Wachovia to provide restitution to the victims, but such bank-abetted fraud steals $3 billion a year from seniors.

Most banks are on the alert for such fraud, but Operation Choke Point was finally set up last year to crack down on senior financial abuse because there are those who abet billions of dollars of harm to vulnerable seniors.