“I didn't think about fraud or anything,” said Romero, a senior citizen from Corona. “I just gave him my information.”
Several months later, Romero received another call, this time from the state Department of Taxation and Finance. A business in Queens had been opened in her name; she owed thousands in back taxes.
Romero was the victim of identity theft, something she shares in common with a growing number of Queens seniors who are being scammed in their old age.
Each year, over 60,000 borough seniors lose more than $21 million through financial fraud, according to a study by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) estimates that one in five seniors nationwide fall victim to fraud.
Gillibrand appeared at the Rego Park Senior Center recently to draw attention to the issue and a bill she authored to protect seniors from fraud. A similar measure was passed in the House of Representatives.
“Queens seniors have spent a lifetime saving and preparing for the golden years, and they deserve financial security and peace of mind,” said Gillibrand. “But far too many are being lured into bad investments, and getting scammed by criminals out of their savings and benefits.”
Mara Schecter, the Queens district director for the Jewish Association for Services for the Aged, said her office receives calls from 300 seniors each year who have fallen prey to scammers. Seniors with poor computer skills and no legal advisers can be easy targets, she said.
“Anybody that promises you something that's too good to be true, it's too good to be true,” she said.
Gillibrand's bill would create an FTC-run center for consumer education and fund state fraud prevention and education programs. It would also increase penalties for financial fraud perpetrated against seniors.
Companion legislation in the House was co-authored by Congressman Anthony Weiner.
“Sadly older New Yorkers do face an increased threat of fraud,” Weiner said. “This legislation will go a long way towards putting a stop to these scammers' shameful practices.”