By Representative Karen Bass (CA-37)
When the pandemic hit early last year, seniors became more susceptible than ever to scams, because of the increased digitization of our daily lives. Newly-available resources are now being used as bait, and already existing scam techniques have unfortunately adapted to fit the pandemic narrative.
The new scams were quick to arise, and deft in their effectiveness. For example, in March of last year, the Social Security Administration posted an alert about a scam claiming that economic impact stimulus payments may be suspended or decreased due to office closures related to the COVID-19 pandemic, which was a lie.
The IRS also issued similar warnings about coronavirus imposter scams related to stimulus checks, overdue payments, filing extensions and other tax related topics.
Before a vaccine was approved for distribution, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission posted a warning about fake stock offers pitching a nonexistent biotech company allegedly developing a vaccine.
The "grandparent scam" has been around for a while, where a scammer poses as a relative, often a grandchild, in a desperate situation in urgent need of money. Due to the economic crisis created by the pandemic, the Federal Communications Commission has worked to raise the awareness of the grandparent scam.
Last year, my office received reports of people coming up to the doors of our elders, posing as census takers or COVID testers, and requesting sensitive information like Social Security numbers and other forms of identification -- something that real census takers or health workers would never do.
These attacks on the safety and security of seniors in our communities are unacceptable but, unfortunately, they aren’t new. Before the pandemic, scams targeting the elders in our community were already on the rise. At a town hall I held in Los Angeles in early 2018, I heard multiple stories from relatives of seniors in our community who had been targeted by scams.
To address this issue, my office put together a two-pronged approach both locally and nationally. First, we held a resources fair in South Los Angeles, focusing on identifying and combatting senior scams with service providers that offered direct assistance for attendees. Second, I introduced a bipartisan resolution to call attention to the barrage of fraud attempts that seniors face nationwide.
We had no way to tell how much worse these scams were about to become. As a result of this pandemic, our legislative efforts must evolve just as these scams have.
Last month, I reintroduced our resolution with modifications to address the changes in these scams. Congress should not only pass legislation to prevent the scams from happening, but also to improve protections for seniors from these incidents in light of the new challenges in this pandemic.
In the meantime, though, as businesses re-open and we return to a new version of normal, it’s important to stay vigilant.
Do not respond to calls or texts from unknown numbers, or any others that appear suspicious. And remember that government agencies, banks, credit card companies, or utility companies will never call you to ask for personal information or money.
If you or a loved one is looking for assistance regarding vaccine distribution, economic impact payments, or any other COVID resources, be sure to reach out to your federal, state and local government representative or a trusted community organization.
Though these scam attempts can be daunting, we can defeat them with vigilance, education, accountability and protection. And the burden is not just on our seniors – it’s on each of us to stand together as a community against these attacks.
We will get through this.
Congressmember Karen Bass is serving her sixth term in Congress. She represents Culver City and parts of Los Angeles.
The opinions expressed in “Congressional Corner” reflect the views of the writer and are not necessarily those of TSCL.