For Gloria Cottingham, of Kenosha, the Identity Theft and Fraud Prevention Workshop held by Congressman Bryan Steil at Gateway Technical College in Kenosha Tuesday came at the perfect time.
“I need some help,” Cottingham told Steil. “Someone called me yesterday to say they could lower my interest rate. I gave them some information.”
Cottingham, one of nearly 200 seniors from Kenosha, Racine and Walworth counties to attend the workship, said she believed the caller was a legitimate representative from a credit card services department.
“I believed it,” she said, adding the caller knew a lot of key information about her accounts already. “I need to know what to do.”
Steil said the majority of complaints his offices in the First Congressional District field are about consumer fraud, identity theft and robo calls. So he pulled together officials from federal and state agencies to help seniors learn how to identify, avoid and report scams.
“Based on the number of people who turned out, it looks like we hit on something there is a need for,” Steil said.
“Everyone needs the tools to avoid falling victim to scams. More than 3 million fraud reports costing consumers $1.48 billion were reported last year. It’s important we continue to work to prevent these crimes and make our community resilient against scammers.”
The workshop was led by Todd Kossow, director of the Federal Trade Commission’s Midwest Region. Kossow was joined by Jeremy Leder of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service; Richard Gaskins of the IRS Criminal Investigations office; Michelle Reinen from the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection; and Lisa Schiller, director of investigations from the Better Business Bureau.
The panelists addressed charity fraud, fraud against veterans, various payment requests, robocalls, home repair fraud and identity theft issues.
“It’s just real important to stay on top of what is going on in the world of identity theft,” Jeanie Klokow of Racine said of her decision to attend the workshop. “It’s a scary time. The robo calls are getting quite sophisticated.”
Marcia Sieckman, also of Racine, said it is difficult to discern what is a scam and what is not. She said she has received scam calls that her Social Security number was associated with criminal activity and another offering computer support.
“You just don’t know who to trust and what to trust,” Sieckman said.
Steil said both he and his grandmother have received calls from those attempting to orchestrate a scam.
“It affects everybody,” Steil said. “I had dinner last night with my grandmother who is 95. ... She got a scam call yesterday that said her oldest grandson — that would be me — was arrested and she needed to send $1,000 right away.”
Steil said he is working on getting two bills passed that will help prevent identity theft.
Steil voted for, and the House passed, the Stopping Bad Robocalls Act. This bill, awaiting consideration in the Senate, would:
Give the FCC the authority to take action when it tracks down robocallers.
Require callers to have verified caller identification information associated with a call before the call can be put through.
Allow consumers to revoke consent they had previously given to receive calls at any time.
Extend the statute of limitations from one year to four years for callers violating robocall prohibitions.
Codify a reassigned number database to put robocallers on notice when a telephone number they may have previously been authorized to call has been given to a new customer who has not authorized their call.
Steil is also a co-sponsor of H.R. 2015, the Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence Act. This bill, which passed the Senate and is awaiting consideration in the House of Representatives, would:
Broaden the authority of the Federal Communications Commission to levy civil penalties of up to $10,000 per call on people who intentionally flout telemarketing restrictions.
Require voice service providers to adopt call authentication technologies, enabling a telephone carrier to verify that incoming calls are legitimate before they reach consumers’ phones.
Direct the FCC to initiate a rule to help protect subscribers from receiving unwanted calls or texts from callers.
“We need to give the FCC the tools they need to go after the bad guys who are doing this,” Steil said.