Senator Collins Warns Senior Citizens Against the Dangers of Online Financial Predators

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Senate Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Susan Collins (R-ME) today continued her efforts to crack down on Internet fraud by joining her Senate colleagues in a campaign to educate senior citizens about the dangers of online financial predators.

“Senior citizens are especially vulnerable to Internet fraud,” said Senator Collins, who serves on the Senate Special Committee on Aging, which held a hearing on Internet predators today. “Many seniors have strong credit ratings, earned over years by faithfully paying their bills on time. This good credit is being abused by thieves who steal credit card numbers and run up bills on their accounts, or by others who promise huge returns on an investment that never materializes.”

Senior citizens are the fastest growing group of Internet users, Senator Collins noted. According to Jupiter Research, the online senior population in the United States will reach 12.6 million in 2005. As the number of online seniors increases, so does the number of consumer fraud complaints reported to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Last year, more than 166,000 people reported they had been victims of Internet-related fraud, more than doubling the number of victims—78,000—in 2001. Of the complaints filed with the FTC, Internet-related fraud cost all victims roughly $200 million, including $12.8 million paid out by defrauded seniors. The weapons of choice in many of these cases were Web pages that offered Internet auctions or shop-at-home/catalogue sales.

“I am pleased that the Senate Special Committee on Aging, in conjunction with AARP, is launching a new public awareness initiative to alert seniors of this escalating danger on the Internet. In order to combat fear of the unknown, consumers must be armed with the knowledge of how to detect online fraud and how to avoid becoming a victim,” Senator Collins said.

“The Internet allows criminals to target more victims more quickly, more cheaply, and with much less chance of getting caught,” she added.

Senator Collins has been a leader on efforts to combat Internet fraud and abuse. As chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, Collins held several hearings looking at identity theft, Internet scams, online securities fraud, and cross-border fraud, in which scams originate in other countries.

Senator Collins also introduced legislation, now law, that strengthens federal laws against false identification and makes it easier to prosecute criminals who traffic in counterfeit identification documents.