The Senate Aging Committee heard testimony Wednesday from witnesses and government officials explaining the impact of criminals that are unseen – but heard – over phone lines.
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Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, noted last year that robocallers generated 26 billion unwanted calls reaching Americans’ mobile phones.
She said adding landline outreach grows that number to 48 billion calls.
One of those people on the other line was Marjorie Jones, an 82-year-old woman who committed suicide after giving up her life's savings to phone scammers.
“They told her she had won a large cash prize, and all she had to do was pay the taxes and fees,” Angela Stancik, Jones’ granddaughter, explained to lawmakers.
Stancik said she realized her grandmother was a victim of elder fraud in the last conversation she had with her.
She needed $6,000 “as soon as possible,” and was desperate. The family could never think of a time she needed to borrow money in the past.
“I could hear the panic in her voice, and she was very very afraid.”
Stancik’s father had just wired $8,000 the week prior. He thought someone was scamming her, but given her tone, he wired the $6,000.
Jones killed herself a week later.
“It is clear to us that the circumstances that led to her death were caused by these criminals,” Stancik said through tears.
Her grandmother had bags of receipts in her closet that showed the money sent to unknown accounts, took out a second mortgage on her home, drained her life savings and cashed out all of her life insurance.
“My grandmother died with $69 in her bank account.”
Federal authorities busted the elder fraud ring last year, when then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the victims targeted more than 1 million people living in the U.S.
The hearing follows a number of bills and initiatives proposed to help stop unwanted robocalls from reaching Americans on their phones.
Delaware County, Pennsylvania Sheriff Jerry Sanders, who also testified in the hearing, explained how some of those calls use “spoofing.” The term describes when a fraudulent incoming call masks itself as coming from someone in a person’s contact list, or with caller I.D.
In one case, the sheriff said the person on the other line identified themselves using the name of an actual deputy on his staff.
He said often the person on the other line claims fines are owed for missing jury duty, and a warrant is issued for the caller that they need to pay.
“The caller will identify themselves as a member of the sheriff’s office … In one recent incident the caller used the name of an actual deputy, going so far as to use the deputy’s voicemail greeting as their own,” Sheriff Sanders said.
Oftentimes, people are told to transfer money to accounts, or even purchase money cards from retailers and mail them to avoid arrest. Most people then opt for the fine in order to avoid a supposed arrest.
“Unfortunately, given the manpower and resources, local law enforcement can do little to investigate these crimes to arrest.”
Lawmakers are calling for a next-generation approach to combat fraud related to robocalls and unwanted solicitations by scammers.