State officials talk strategies to protect seniors from financial fraud

SCRANTON — Anne Dougherty told Gov. Tom Wolf and a room full of fellow senior citizens Wednesday that she was a victim of identity theft.

“I had no idea how they got my information, but they had it,” the 85-year-old Dunmore resident said. “They had my name, my address, my phone number, my Social Security number. I was a wreck. It took me a year to get that straightened out.”

Ms. Dougherty was one of about 50 area seniors who visited Scranton’s South Side Senior Center on Wednesday for a panel discussion — hosted by Mr. Wolf, state Department of Banking and Securities Secretary Robin Wiessmann and state Department of Aging Secretary Teresa Osborne — on how the elderly can protect themselves from financial fraud, scams and other targeted abuse.

Scammers regularly prey upon senior citizens because they receive a steady income through Social Security and often have money saved, Ms. Wiessmann said. In fact, one in five senior citizens will be the victim of fraud or financial abuse in their lifetime, with such crimes estimated to cost older Americans about $36 billion annually, according to Mr. Wolf.

Ms. Wiessmann warned seniors to be vigilant of skimming devices on ATM machines and to be wary of callers soliciting information over the telephone.

Resident Edward Sporko, 94, knows this well. He recently identified and avoided a telephone scam in which a stranger pressed him repeatedly for answers to personal questions.

“They’re out there and they’re hungry,” Mr. Sporko said.

The panelists warned that even family members and caregivers can perpetrate fraud, sometimes by urging seniors to give them power of attorney or to open joint bank accounts.

“We need to ensure that you know how to recognize [fraud] when it’s happening,” Ms. Osborne said. “You need to understand that you don’t have to be ashamed or embarrassed.”

Ms. Wiessmann touted the governor’s Consumer Financial Protection Initiative. Since its launch in 2015, the initiative has aimed to prevent elder financial abuse by coordinating the efforts of a host of state agencies.

Seniors may access this network of 11 state agencies and departments working together to provide consumer protections by calling toll-free 800-PA-BANKS (800-722-2657).

Ms. Osborne encouraged elderly residents who fear they may be targets of fraud to contact their local Area Agency on Aging, which works with local officials, law enforcement and state agencies to protect seniors.

Together these resources act to protect some of the state’s most vulnerable residents, Mr. Wolf said. “[It’s] so if something comes across your table and it sounds too good to be true, you have somebody you can call,” he said.




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