Klobuchar warns against fraud


Nobody from the public showed up for the presentation in the Princeton library last Thursday to see the short video on the efforts of U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, who is co-authoring legislation to deal with fraud that often targets senior citizens.

The video’s message might be useful, especially to those reaching retirement age.

The two bills’ proposals Klobuchar is leading are the Guardian Accountability and Senior Protection Act as well as the STOP Identity Theft Act.

The Guardian act is designed to prevent abuse of elders by strengthening oversight and accountability for court-appointed guardians. More than 20,000 Minnesotans have court-appointed guardians or conservators who manage their personal and financial affairs.

The STOP Identity Theft Act is aimed at criminals filing false tax forms to get someone else’s tax refund. Criminals are increasingly doing this by using stolen identities, according to Klobuchar.

Klobuchar, in her video, quoted a New York Times story stating that identity thieves filed at least 2.6 million false tax returns last year, double the number in 2011. The legislation, if passed, would focus law enforcement resources and increase the penalties for such fraud. Klobuchar, who is an attorney, is on the U.S. Senate’s Commerce Committee that focuses on consumer protection issues and is also on the Judiciary Committee that oversees law enforcement and court issues.

Sammy Clark, the state director for Klobuchar’s office in Minnesota, spoke briefly about the fraud matter after the video was completed. He said that filing a false tax return to get someone else’s refund creates two victims. One is the U.S. government that is out the money if they don’t find and convict the perpetrator. The other is the victim who was supposed to get the refund.

Even if the person entitled to the refund finally receives it, they must first go through the hassle of proving to the IRS that they are the legitimate filer, Clark said.

Clark told of a man in Circle Pines who turned to Klobuchar’s office for help after he was told by the IRS that he had filed twice to get his refund. What happened was someone had fraudulently filed before him, using his identity. Then the Circle Pines man filed, not having any idea of the fraud that had been perpetrated.

According to Clark, the IRS detected 940,000 fraudulent tax returns in 2010 for a $6.5 billion loss and the IRS estimated another $5.2 billion went undetected.

Klobuchar, Clark and Klobuchar’s communications specialist, Ben Hill (who spoke by phone later), noted that with the avalanche of baby boomers, known as the “Silver Tsunami,” reaching retirement age now, there is more opportunity for crooks. (Baby boomers are often defined as having been born between 1946 and 1964 because of the high number of births following World War II.)

Senior citizens have about 70 percent of the country’s wealth and so criminals are enticed to focus on this group, Klobuchar and Hill stated.

Clark also talked about the grandfather scam that has been occurring across the country. It is the one where a criminal will call a senior citizen and claim to be their grandchild, who is in trouble in Canada or some other far-off place, and wants the grandparent to wire them money right away to help them. Callers might say they are in jail or have been in an accident.

Another contributing factor in the rise of fraud is the many social media outlets for people trying to steal identities and personal information.

Princeton Police Chief Brian Payne was asked last Friday for comment on the grandfather scam and he agreed that it is prevalent. Payne urged anyone receiving a call from someone claiming to be their grandchild and wanting financial help to first call their police department to check it out.

One golden rule often cited by law enforcement and financial institutions is for people not to respond to telephone calls where the caller wants personal information, such as numbers for bank accounts, Social Security, credit cards or licenses. Banks have repeatedly put out literature stating that a bank is not going to seek customer financial information by telephoning them.

“It’s a shameful thing,” Payne said. These senior citizens who are victims of such fraud are “honest, hardworking people” who want to help someone out, he said.