Congress has passed a bill – written in part by U.S. Sen. Susan Collins – to protect senior citizens from scam artists.

Collins, a Maine Republican, and Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat, introduced the bill together last year. It passed the Senate in March and was approved by the House on Tuesday as part of a banking reform package. It will now go to President Trump’s desk for a signature.

Bank privacy laws have made it difficult in the past for financial institutions to report suspected fraud. The bill will encourage banks, credit unions, investment advisors, broker-dealers, insurance companies and insurances agencies to educate their employees about financial fraud and report suspected abuses. It will also protect these institutions from being sued for reporting suspected fraud as long as they have trained their employees and made their reports on a reasonable basis to the proper authorities.

Collins’ office said the national initiative is modeled after a program that already exists in Maine. “As Chairman of the Senate Aging Committee, I have been committed to fighting fraud and financial exploitation targeted at older Americans,” Collins said in a statement. “The Senior $afe Act, based on Maine’s innovative program, will empower and encourage our financial service representatives to identify warning signs of common scams and help prevent seniors from becoming victims.”

The Government Accountability Office has reported that seniors lose an estimated $2.9 billion annually from financial fraud.

In her role on the aging committee, Collins has spoken about financial scams against seniors, saying that even her mother has been targeted. The committee recently published its annual resource book for seniors and agencies like AARP that serve seniors and identified the top 10 scams against elders.

Last year, more Mainers called the committee’s hotline to report scams than residents of any other state. The number of hotline calls from Maine was 521; the next closest was Pennsylvania with 162.

The most common scam reported in 2017 was the IRS scam, in which callers pretend to be Internal Revenue Service workers and demand back tax payments. More than 100 complaints were also related to the Jamaican lottery scam, which was reported heavily in Maine going back to 2013. Other common reports were for unsolicited phone calls and the “Can you hear me?” scam, which attempts to prompt the recipient to say “yes.”

In some cases, seniors who have been tricked by these scams have lost huge sums of money. For example, a Hermon woman testified to Collins’ committee in 2013 about her father, who lost $85,000 over months in the Jamaican lottery scam. The health of many victims also often deteriorates as the scam goes on.

U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin was one of the sponsors of the bill in the House. He also released a statement Tuesday, saying he was pleased the legislation passed.

“Maine is home to the oldest population in the nation and, unfortunately, so many of our seniors fall victim to financial abuse and fraud,” he said. “Maine’s seniors, including my own mother who was a nurse and my father who taught in Central Maine for years, should have the protections and support they need when financial criminals attempt to do them harm.”

 

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