Skip to main content

tv   Hearing on Scams Targeting Veterans  CSPAN  November 8, 2019 1:44am-3:41am EST

1:44 am
efforts by the u.s. and mexico to battle mexican drug cartels. working families party national director talks about the political parties roots and priorities, and the endorsement for elizabeth warren. president david mcintosh on his strategy for campaign 2020. and if defense of president trump in the impeachment inquiry. joinedgton journal," the discussion. >> up next, a hearing on protecting veterans targeted by doms, and what congress can on the issue. this is about two hours.
1:45 am
collins: this hearing will come to order. good morning. next week americans will honor our nation's veterans who have paid the price for our freedom in times of conflict and served as our shield in times of peace. today, nearly 20 million americans have earned the title of veteran. i'm proud to say that maine is home to more than 114,000 veterans. the second highest percentage in our entire country. we owe them such a great debt. the gratitude we express in words on veterans day can repay this debt only in small measure. a truly grateful nation must match its words with actions.
1:46 am
as we will learn today, one issue that calls for our immediate action is to fight a newer enemy facing our veterans and that is those relentless con artists who seek to rob them of their life savings and defraud them of the benefits they have earned in service to our country. often, veterans fall victim to the same scams that this committee has highlighted in recent years such as the irs imposter scam, the grandparent scam, the romance scam, the jamaican lottery scheme and identity theft. veterans are disproportionately affected by these schemes. there's also troubling evidence that some fraudsters are
1:47 am
deliberately targeting veterans and they're structuring their scams in order to reach our veterans. for example, in a case that we will hear more about today, a fraudster set up an entity called the veterans pension planners of america. sounds legitimate, doesn't it? it was not. she used it to operate what is often referred to as an aid and attendance scam. her pitch was that she could help veterans diversify their assets to get beneath the threshold to qualify for va benefits if they released their assets to her. so that she could invest on their behalf. instead, she stole their assets
1:48 am
and spent their money. all told, she defrauded 78 victims out of $2 million before she was arrested and convicted on multiple state and federal charges. scammers exploit public support for those who have served our country by creating fake charities that supposedly raise money for needy veterans but instead funnel funds from generous contributors to greedy fraudsters. in one recent case, the con artist operating out of michigan was convicted of stealing nearly $200,000 from 36 victims who thought they were donating to charities benefitting veterans. not only did the veterans never see a dime of this money, the fraudster added insult to injury
1:49 am
by stealing the victim's personally identifiable information to commit identify theft. fortunately through the very good work of the u.s. postal inspections service, this criminal is now behind bars. other criminals promised to help veterans claim benefits from nonexistent government programs or they charge inappropriate fees for helping veterans apply for the benefits they've earned or they exploit the sense of camaraderie that veterans feel for one another to gain their victim's trust and swindle them out of their savings. these regrettably are not isolated examples. surveys show that more than three quarters of our veterans have been contacted by con artists.
1:50 am
given these facts, what action should we take to protect our veterans? certainly the cases we will highlight in this hearing show the value of aggressive prosecution. that sends a real message to other criminals out there that they will be pursued, they will be caught, and they will be brought to justice. but it's this committee has often noted, many con artists operate offshore, beyond the reach of our state and local law enforcement, and some veterans are simply too embarrassed to report that they have been scammed. although they shouldn't be because it can happen to anyone. instead, we must find ways to protect our veterans from scams
1:51 am
before they become victims. education is one way. that's one of the reasons we're holding this hearing today. another is to build on the camaraderie veterans have for one another by bringing them together to provide another set of eyes. the non-profit vet to vet maine program shows how the trusted judgment of a fellow veteran can stop a scam before it starts. before closing, i want to note the recent gao study that identified actions that the veterans administration can take to better protect veterans from aid and attendance scams. according to the gao, they
1:52 am
v.a. receive reports of potential fraud or exploitation but it does not analyze this information to assess the prevalence of scams, inform its outreach efforts, or to help law enforcement pursue these criminals. i believe that the va should take a leading role in this fight. the ranking member and i, as well as other members of this committee, will be writing to the secretary of the va to ask what steps the department is taking to assess the risk posed to our nation's veterans and what can be done to better protect them from fraud. as veterans day approaches, we remember all those who serve, not just by honoring their service through our words, but also by the actions that we take. veterans and their families have
1:53 am
a right to expect that the nation they served will fight to protect them from unscrupulous individuals. as the aarp says in its bulletin, they protected us, now it's our turn. i now am happy to turn to our ranking member, senator casey, for his opening statement. thank you. sen. casey: chairman collins, thank you for holding this very important hearing especially as we prepare for veterans day. i'm pleased as i know we all are that we're joined by three veterans, one of whom is an active reservist on this panel today. we want to thank each of you for your service to the country and grateful for your testimony today. veterans day is only days away and it's a day when we honor those who served our country not only in war but also in peace.
1:54 am
and it's a reminder of our abiding responsibility to serve them, to serve them in return. president lincoln outlined a simple but vitally important mandate when it comes to the care that our veterans are owed, quote, that we must care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, unquote. way back in 1991, my father was taking the oath of office as governor, and it happened to be the day before the invasion of iraq when our soldiers were heading into combat and at that time he said -- and i'm quoting -- we pray for them and for ourselves that we may be worthy of their valor, unquote. being worthy of their valor, if you happen to be a member of congress, if you're going to prove yourself worthy of their valor, you ought to prove it by your actions.
1:55 am
here in the senate and the congress overall, we have an the opportunity and the ability to demonstrate that we are worthy of their valor by ensuring that veterans receive every single benefit that they are owed and even more. and when we learn of barriers to those benefits, we must work to overcome those barriers. that's why i'm fighting so hard to hold the department of veterans affairs accountable for providing every veteran access to information about their va benefits. my legislation, the va website accountability act, which i hope we can pass by the end of this year, would get us one step closer to comprehensive accessibility for veterans. it's why i'm fighting to ensure that caregivers who watch over our veterans every single day are supported and given respite. the supporting of veterans
1:56 am
caregivers act would ensure veteran caregivers cannot be kicked out of the va caregivers program. and as we'll discuss today, it's why chairman collins and i wanted to hold this hearing to ensure that not one more veteran, not one more veteran loses one more penny to a scammer, a schemer, or a con artist. so we must not stop with just the hearing. we know that 78% of veterans report receiving a scam attempt related to their veteran status. almost eight out of ten. if we are to be worthy of the valor of our veterans, this number should be zero, not 78%, it should be zero. a recent report from the gao found that the va lacks a central clearinghouse for soliciting and collecting
1:57 am
information on potential financial exploitation of veterans receiving pension benefits. to say this is troubling is an understatement. the gao provided the va with clear recommendations for addressing this problem and now i'm quoting, quote, systematically solicit and collect information on potential financial exploitation, unquote, and, quote, assess this information to address the potential exploitation of veterans receiving pension benefits, unquote. instead of working to implement the recommendations, the va is putting in place a process that the gao claims would, quote, not fully address the underlying issue, unquote. i think they're being a little charitable in their assessment of what the va is doing in response. this is totally unacceptable.
1:58 am
that's why we're sending a letter, members of this committee, chairman collins and i and others, to find out more about this decision and also why the va is not doing more to combat scams against veterans. and as we'll hear today, in order to put an end to the predatory practice of scammers, scammers of the worst kind of who prey upon those who serve, there needs to be an all hands on deck approach. we need to find a way to stop these scammers from getting through phone lines. we need to be sure that people are educated about how to avoid becoming victims of a scam. there must be a place to report scammers, whether it's the department of justice, the federal trade commission, the va or right here at the aging committee by way of our fraud hotline. we need to ensure that prosecutors have the tools they need to go after these criminals
1:59 am
and keep them behind bars. i'm certain that our hearing today will touch upon all of these topics and more, but it's unconscionable to me that someone who would stoop so low as to steal money from someone who agreed to sacrifice so much for our country. and it's also unconscionable to me and i know members of this committee, that someone would also stoop so low to pad their own pockets by spewing a tale of caring for veterans when they're doing nothing of the kind. chairman collins, this hearing could not be more important. we thank you for holding it and we look forward to the testimony of our witnesses. sen. collins: thank you. i want to acknowledge senator braun and senator blumenthal have joined us, and we now turn to our panel of witnesses. ,ur first witness is ben wells
2:00 am
from portland, maine. mr. wells is an air force veteran who participated in operation enduring freedom. he flew 35 combat missions, earned an air medal and was honorably discharged in 2013. he then had the wisdom to move to the great state of maine, where he became involved in the a localet program, nonprofit that matches veterans for companionship, mentorship and other assistance. i will turn to our ranking member to introduce our second witness. >> i am pleased to introduce the witnessman, at table today all the way from herndon in northumberland county. that's a pretty good ride. thank you for making the trip, and we are grateful you will be
2:01 am
with us. laverne served in the u.s. air force, the u.s. army reserve and the national guard, and later worked as a civilian employee for the army. what here to share happened a few years ago when con artists stole money from him claiming to be from a veterans organization. he learned there was no veteran organization. he reported what happened, and it is possible he will be able to help prosecution of the scammers. i also welcome laverne's wife doris, over his right shoulder, with us today. andhis daughter teri son-in-law jeffrey. we are also grateful, as we are to all veterans, today and every day, we are grateful for your service and for taking time to be here. thank you. collins" our next witness
2:02 am
is the district attorney for three counties in mississippi. he has been a real leader in combating these scams. first selected at the tender age of 30, one of the youngest history, the state's mr. richardson later became the first african-american to serve mississippi of the prosecutors association. finally, last but certainly not least, we will hear from inspector carol harris, the ofing inspector in charge communications, governance and strategy group at the united states postal inspection service . inspector harris is also a lieutenant colonel in the u.s. marine corps reserve who served in iraq and kuwait, and was awarded the navy marine corps
2:03 am
commendation medal. leads operation protect veterans for the postal inspection service and will discuss efforts to combat fraud targeting veterans. mr. wells, we begin with you. thank you all for being here. mr. wells: thank you. thank you for having me here. it is an honor to speak about this issue. as you said, senator collins, i was an air force veteran and got out in 2013, relocating to maine in 2014. arriving there i wanted to continue my dedication to service and was looking for opportunities to volunteer when i went to graduate school. i found vet2vet maine, simple internet search, and i liked what they had to say, offering companionship to isolated veterans. senator collins mentioned there
2:04 am
is a significant number of veterans, a significant number of elderly men and women in the state, and veterans are no exception. it seeks to address isolation of veterans, but also connect them with veterans they likely -- benefits they likely qualify for and haven't been receiving. contacted me, i went in, they got me a back rent check and training, and connected me with a member in his 80's. a korean war air force veteran, a maintainer on aircraft. over several weeks, i was at his house once a week meeting with him and his wife, having conversation, coffee, taking him to lunch, getting him out of the house. they were isolated, living in windham, maine, not a metropolitan area. i was able to have a good connection with them, and i became aware that he had never
2:05 am
in 60 years of being out of the military been connected with the v.a. in any way. i also became aware his wife aineacted the vet2vet m program as a way to get respite care and potentially in-home care as he had declining health. significant health problems, including physical issues, chronic pain and diabetes. they were spending hundreds of dollars on diabetes medication alone and living off a very from his work in telecommunications and social security. that became the first order of business, to get him connected with the v.a. and get him medical care and potentially pharmaceutical care that he not only qualified for and deserved but really needed. in the process, i was able to help them fill out the paperwork. i contacted the vet2vet maine program to get them a case manager and make them aware of his needs in the home and see if
2:06 am
the organization could help them out. process, the paperwork was slow to process as it always is. she continued to reach out. newspaper,ad in the i think with the coupons, for a program that was advertising free in-home care and respite care for veterans. free sounds really good to someone on a fixed income, so she contacted the organization. she also had the foresight to reach out to me to sit in on the conversation and i accepted. the nature of this, offering free in-home care to them. the sales pitch was that what they were going to do was that they would assist them in obtaining a pension from the v.a., and that would allow them access to the aid and attendance program, as we mentioned. what they wanted and what struck me as the first red flag was how
2:07 am
they would finance this. they wanted my veteran to open a separate checking account, that they had draft on and could auto-draft. they would auto-deduct whatever pension and benefits they got. illegal or anything, but there was no conversation as to why that existed instead of regular payment methods. i started to ask questions. they then continued, and said how they would get him to qualify the means test. these pensions and benefits are means tested, and he was slightly over, at which point he started to describe a method, they could report medical bills their totalto lower income and pass the means test. that is fine, except that even with medical bills, hundreds of dollars of insulin, they weren't going to pass. so he suggested they employ, in air quotes, their daughter as a
2:08 am
medical aide, which she was not qualified, trained or certified in. to do things like filling their prescriptions over the phone or picking up prescriptions, and they could pay her, which they were not going to, a stipend, and then put that into their accounting. the fuzzy math is where i thought this was not a good idea. luckily, they trusted me. i said, you really shouldn't do this. they were able to avoid the scam. they ended up going through the regular process, got benefits, in-home care and respite care through i believe the v.a. and other organizations. ultimately he was moved to hospice, and passed, but at least in the later stages of his life he had that care, and it didn't put significant financial strain on the veteran. thank you. sen. collins: thank you so much for intervening and caring
2:09 am
enough to do so. i just can't imagine what the final years of life would have been for this couple, if they had not followed your advice. i am sure they would have lost everything they were getting that was in that separate checking account. mr. foreman? chairman collins, ranking member casey, members of the committee, thank you for inviting me to testify at this here today. it is an honor to be here, to talk about veterans' scams. my name is laverne foreman. i am 82 years old and i live in the herndon area, in pennsylvania. i am retired both from the civil service and the military with , having served in the air force, army reserve and army national guard. i am proud to be a veteran. for the most part, people thank
2:10 am
me for my service. it never occurred to me that someone could be so cold-hearted to make a call and claim to care for veterans, when in reality all they are doing is lining their own pockets. five years ago, i learned just how reckless they can be. when i received a phone call from senator casey's office inviting me to testify before you today, i was pleased to accept the invitation and share with you what happened. it isn't easy for me to talk about this, being scammed. what i'm doing today is an extension of my service. i feel a sense of responsibility, to warn others who served, and to be vigilant against scams. let me explain. receivedber of 2014, i a call from an organization
2:11 am
disabled and paralyzed veterans , fund, or dpvf, requesting a donation. i was told in the conversation that the organization was dedicated to helping disabled and paralyzed veterans, and raised funds to support va hospitals and end veteran homelessness. i have donated to similar organizations in the past, because of my concerns for and sensitivity to my peers. to send aat that time one-time donation to dpvf of $20. however, when i received the pledge number the organization sent me, it showed i had pledged $25. i thought this was odd. however, rather than arguing with them, i sent them the $25
2:12 am
as listed. 2015,llowing year, in dpvf called me again to request a donation. i pledged to give the amount that i had given previously. again when i received the pledge letter, it was for a few more dollars than i had pledged on the phone, this time $35. i grew even more suspicious, but believed it was just a way of fundraisers trying to get more money. i tried calling the organization in washington. they listed a washington, d.c. telephone number. but thit was of no help. torote a letter to them, explain that i had agreed to a lower amount and that i
2:13 am
questioned their approach. i enclose a check for the $35. i didn't want to get into an argument. i asked them at that time to remove my name from their contact list and i didn't want to hear from them again. in february 2016, when i received my statement for my credit union, i noticed a check listed with a number not within the number sequence of my checks. andought this was strange, i called my credit union. they confirmed it was a remotely-generated check from paralyzed, disabled and paralyzed veterans fund. i was kind of shocked. they must have made a copy of my check, kept the routing and account number information.
2:14 am
i had not spoken to this organization, or sent a donation. scammed.lize i was of legitimate veteran service organizations, vso's, veterans of america, disabled veterans, but i realized there was no such organization as the disabled and paralyzed veterans fund. secondly, i reported this to the pennsylvania attorney general's office and was later contacted by the u.s. postal system. anas glad to hear there's investigation, and that they will be some kind of action taken against this organization. be consideredcan one of the lucky ones. i didn't give a scammer a lot of
2:15 am
money. the fraudulent check immediately. but i know not everyone is as lucky as i am. these phony organizations and the people who steal money by pretending to help veterans must be stopped. i never believed that anyone would stoop so low as to steal money and benefits from a veteran. rip offam artists innocent people, and as a result contributions are diverted away from organizations actually trying to do something for veterans. amloss may seem small, and i certain these scammers have targeted thousands, if not millions of more people. the total sum of their bounty probably far exceeds anything that i could ever earn in a lifetime. and that is wrong. on behalf of veterans, i ask everyone who can help to stop this activity to play their part. thank you again for inviting me to testify today.
2:16 am
i hope by sharing my story, i can help someone from losing money to these types of scammers. sen. collins: thank you very much, mr. foreman, for coming forward and warning others. that is courageous of you. i'm sure you will save others from going through what you did, even though you were able to stop it pretty quickly. district attorney richardson, welcome. mr. richardson: chairman collins, ranking member casey, and members of the committee, i am district attorney dewayne richardson, and i serve the fourth judicial district of mississippi. thank you for the opportunity to testify before this committee about our investigation and prosecution of crimes committed by gina a/k/a tammi palasini. my office first became aware of palasini's actions due to a single bad check. this check led to the unraveling of a fraud that amounted to millions of dollars stolen from the elderly, veterans and their families.
2:17 am
in 2011, palasini was introduced to 89 year old grace ward and her family through staff at the facility where grace ward was a resident. palasini promised the ward family that she would provide a 10% return on their investment, along with securing medicaid benefits for grace ward which would be used to offset the cost of living at the facility. with that promise, the ward family presented palasini with a cashiers check in a amount of $189,000.00. grace ward's life savings. when grace ward passed away three months later, the family contacted palasini, who assured them that she would repay their money plus interest. after many false promises and excuses, palasini had a check hand delivered to the ward family on september 30, 2011 in the amount of $192,000.00. this was to include the initial investment and $3000 in interest. and it was at this moment in 2011 that palasini committed the crime of check fraud. contactedn roy ward
2:18 am
iy office as the palasin business had a location in my district. after learning the depth of palasini's crimes against the ward family, my office manager, tamicko fair, became determined to do everything possible to make this family whole and attempt to recoup their funds. my office's investigation into palasini would last almost five years. she was tracked down after being listed in the riverside county mental health board's monthly meeting agenda. operatingme, she was senior benefits consulting group in riverside, california. with the assistance of hugh mcclendon with the u.s. marshals service and other agencies palasini was arrested and , brought back to mississippi on our warrant. it was also at that time, with the publicity, i started to receive phone calls from other victims across the state, and i learned of an investigation conducted by kyle parker, a u.s. postal inspector. one of the additional victims i spoke to was a world war ii air
2:19 am
force veteran, johnnie ray toland. as mr. toland grew older and began to show signs of alzheimer's, his children cynde began to look for assisted living locations. staff members at one of those locations introduced the family to palasini in 2011. the tolands were made the same fraudulent promises as the wards, and palasini was able to convince that family to hand over control of $340,000. palasini guaranteed that mr. toland would receive veteran's benefits, as well as a return on his investment that she promised the wards. johnnie ray toland went on to live for three more years. it was not until his passing that his family learned of palasini's fraudulent scheme. a the day of his funeral, postal inspector contacted his son and told him about palasini's fraudulent activity. and he told him the same day the they gave control of $340,000, she used their money
2:20 am
to purchase a race car and advertising for her son. ultimately, palasini was charged convicted in three counties in mississippi, wayne, pike and sunflower. she was ordered to seven years in prison. in addition to the mississippi convictions, palasini was later charged in a 19 count federal indictment in 2015. she later pled guilty to the first count, a crime that alleged fraud. she was sentenced to serve 53 months in custody to run the same time as her mississippi time. she was also ordered to pay over $2 million in restitution. after speaking to the victims of palasini, words cannot express the level of devastation she imposed on their lives. all of her victims were elderly citizens, some of whom were veterans. for the ward family, palasini's crimes imposed a severe financial hardship. i learned that grace ward's one desire as she grew older was to be able to provide for her
2:21 am
family financially after her death. palasini took that away from them. in total, palasini was ordered to pay restitution to her victims in excess of $2.5 million. to date, palasini has not paid onlyent in restitution, $50 towards a $100 mandatory federal assessment. a well respected prosecutor in mississippi has said that it is our duty to care for our widows, orphans, and our elderly. what began as a complaint for a felony worthless check has brought awareness to a greater problem in our society. victims described palasini as smart, connected, and ultimately a very conniving individual. palasini found her victims at the very institutions that should have cared for and protected them. when she presented them her proposals, she came to the meetings with all the right credentials and connections to achieve the results or victims desired. however, in the end all she left each family with was an empty
2:22 am
bank account and broken promises. thank you for the opportunity to testify before this committee, and i look forward to answering any questions. sen. thank you -- sen. collins: thank you very much. compassionl for your for the victims of the crimes and your determination to put the criminals behind bars. thank you. inspector harris. morning. harris: good thank you for holding this hearing on veteran related scams. my name is carroll harris. i am the acting inspector in charge for communications within the u.s. postal inspection service, the law enforcement, crime prevention and security arm of the postal service. i started my career in government service when i joined the marine corps in 1990. i served 10 years of active duty duty in dirt i continue to serve as a
2:23 am
reservist. according to a recent aarp survey, the vast majority of veterans encounter scams tailored just to them. veteran pension buyouts, fake veteran charities and scams offering special access to veteran benefits for a fee. in these cases, the scammer makes it appear that they represent a veteran agency or government organization or claimed that they themselves served in the military to create a sense of affinity. imposters like these know that members of the military have been trained to rely on and trust other service members, and to honor the bonds of service. another finding from the survey found veterans experience post-traumatic stress at a rate more than double the general public. it can be extremely difficult for a veteran to recognize when their otherwise good judgment has been temporarily clouded by what an experienced fraud operator is selling. in one cases, postal
2:24 am
investigators investigated gina to believeeading us that she was associated with the department of veterans affairs. couldld veterans they appear to have fewer assets than they did and qualify for greater assistance, and offered to reinvest client money in financial products. she failed to warn them that she was jeopardizing the benefits with moves like these. in reality, the fraud operator never reinvested money on the behalf of veterans, but took the money and spend it on herself, of course until she landed in jail. in another case, a fake charity led people to believe their donations would help disabled and paralyzed veterans, especially vets vulnerable to suicide. mr. foreman, another witness here, received a solicitation in his mailbox and generously gave his donation, which never went to help anyone but the scammers, who have been referred to the department of justice for
2:25 am
prosecution. in 2017 aarp and the postal inspection service launched operation protect veterans, sharing tips on how to safeguard assets and personal information. with the help of veterans organizations, libraries, senior centers and over 30,000 post offices around the country, we distribute it customize brochures and surveys. surveys served two important purposes. first, a means for veterans to tell us what scams they are seeing, but more importantly by filling out the survey and returning it, it raises their awareness, we believe it has boosted their immunity to fraud. when postal inspectors are asked, how can consumers stay safe financially? them -- wea we tell tell them to remember to stop and talk. if you are told to send money to someone you have only known online, find a friend before you reach for your wall that. people who operate fraud schemes are successful because they are
2:26 am
persuasive and because they have convinced us to keep it a secret. why? because scams only work when we are isolated from the people we know and trust at any age, but especially after we retire. we all need to make sure there's an extra pair of eyes on the decisions we make about our money. we need a trustworthy friend or family member we can talk to. refer tolitary, we this person as our foxhole buddy. we like to say, i have your six. think of the hands of the clock. another way of saying, i have got your back. when i was in a foxhole my buddy was who i trusted to be my eyes when i couldn't see, and i was the same for him. i used a lot of military jargon. i grew up in a household where it was used freely. my father served in combat in vietnam, and my grandfather in world war ii. service, honor and duty were household terms used daily. when the postal inspection
2:27 am
service launched operation protect veterans, i served this brochure with my dad. but not everyone has someone to confide in. maybe you can help others. past the brochure to your friends. be a foxhole buddy to someone else. before i conclude, i want to thank the committee. we know scams don't just happen line.he telephone but line. but the ease with which a telemarketer can influence others over the phone is unparalleled. postal inspectors routinely tell consumers, work with phone service providers to stop robo and other unwanted calls. keep you for helping to fraudulent calls from ever ringing our phones in the first place. i appreciate the opportunity to share the work the postal inspectors do to protect veterans and safeguard the american public from fraud. sen. collins: thank you very much, inspector harris. i know firsthand what a great
2:28 am
job the postal inspection service desk, and -- does, and i really appreciate your passion for this. thank you. harris talked about how important it was to have someone an older veteran can talk to. as i understand, that's exactly what you did. could you tell us a little more about the vet2vet program, and the training that you received? mr. wells: absolutely. provideset2vet program volunteers with training to understand first and foremost how to connect with the veterans. contact them weekly. send them emails. follow-up. see how they are doing. they will be the eyes and ears in the household. how can you recognize if your veteran has a bunch of food in the refrigerator going bad? can you recognize if they are able to maintain an upkeep for
2:29 am
themselves? maybe recognize signs or symptoms of cognitive decline, or mental health issues. but really just to be the eyes on the ground. arear as scams go, we offered some training on how to recognize financial scams, some information on scams perpetuated ofore, and then a big focus what the training was, to allow the veterans to understand, the veteran volunteers i should say, to understand the number of organizations and benefits that veteran elderly qualify for in the state. we didn't have to have infinite knowledge, encyclopedic knowledge of these things, but recognize if there's a need, we can refer back to the agency and they would be able to connect people for legal benefits, or health care benefits, v.a. or state or even in the community. sen. collins: so let's talk about the scam that you helped prevent.
2:30 am
a a lot of times, the con art ists use the telephone or the orernet, send an email, solicitation comes in the mail, as mr. foreman mentioned, for a phony charity. if i understood you correctly, in this case it was a flyer, an newspaper, the press-harold, i assume, along with all the other flyers, is that correct? 2 yes -- mr. wells: yes. a was an ad, part of newsletter for the southern maine agency on aging, something that was sent out. most people toss these things away as junk mail. wasas a small ad, and it advertising what i said, free in-home and respite care for veterans, directly targeting them. sen. collins: so this is an
2:31 am
unusual method of trying to rip off a veteran. most of the ones we hear about our telephone calls, robo calls, the directt scams or solicitations in the mail. in many waysnk people would be less on-guard for that kind of approach. was it difficult for you to convince this older veteran that it was a scam, or how you built up a relationship by that point, so that he and his wife trusted your judgment? i don't think it was difficult --mr. wells: i don't think it was difficult at all. it was sad to see. he was a veteran, and was really excited about this. finally his wife would have some relief. he was not, it was very hard for him to move, he had to have a walker. a 200-pound, six-foot man in his
2:32 am
80's, and she was also in her 80's, so he was really excited about this opportunity. i had to sort of sweep the rug out from under them. his wife said almost immediately once i laid out why this was likely a bad idea, it sounded like it would at the very least expose them to legal problems, how they were going to do the accounting, potential fraud. she definitely, because of our relationship and what i had seen -- she had seen with me and her husband, was right on board. lins: one of the advantages of the postal service, there are post offices everywhere, in rural and large urban areas. tell us about how you make sure this important flyer that warns veterans about scams but also has them fill out the survey, so you can get information and the
2:33 am
y get more. how are you distributed, and how do you advertise the program? inspector harris: chairman collins, thank you for the question. there are over 30,000 post offices around the country, and the post office lobby is incredibly valuable real estate for the community. as part of our efforts to help spread the word, raise awareness, we have placed these brochures in those lobbies across the country. we did that back in 2018, and we've received many responses from them, and we believe we have helped not only veterans, but the population in general by highlighting the scams and schemes that are out there. we hope it served as a call to action to also share with others, as we seek to enlist everyone in the fight against fraud by raising the awareness and calling them to help protect
2:34 am
themselves and serve others in their community. sen. collins: thank you. senator casey? casey: thank you very much. laverne, i will start with you. i wasg your story again, reminded it would be very easy for a lot of people to send that few extra dollars after you had, you knew it was more than you promised. because of the dollar amount, you can see how easy it would be for someone to gradually fall into the trap. absent this hearing and absent being educated by my staff and others, without that, i probably would have done the same thing. when you think about the dollar amounts, it is, we live in a country, i had my staff check,
2:35 am
in the u.s. there's about 18 million veterans. pennsylvania, there's over 800,000, the last number i saw. so the number of veterans is so big, and the targeting is so substantial, if gao is right, about 80% have been targeted. you could get a lot of money accumulating with those small dollar amounts. so, it is very easy for anyone of us to fall into that, number one. number two, when i go around our state and visit senior centers, one thing i tried to urge folks to do, knowing it could happen to anyone at any age, to hang up if you have any suspicion. i don't think i would have had a in the case youe case you
2:36 am
cited. i would have probably gone long, at least at one point. i hope i would have withdrawn when you did. other than something as simple as saying, if you have some suspicion, hang up, that's pretty simple advice, but what other tips would you give, especially to veterans, based upon the experience you have had? the fact that you are here provides that kind of, that kind of advice for others. mr. foreman: the number one action we took was caller id, to screen calls. i feel that is an important step in the right direction. i don't answer calls i don't recognize. the other, if you do respond to a telephone call, and somebody is asking for funds, to not provide the credit card or check number, force them to
2:37 am
send you a pledge letter, they all will do it. we also have two recognize how veterans, telegraph our veteran status, and we do it annoyingly. [laughter] 75% to 80% of the return labels i put on my letters are american legion, vfw, something to do with the military. people receiving those, even if they wrere not knowledgeable i was a veteran, my letter tells them. plus the credit union i use is primarily one from a military organization. so the ways i am telling them i am a veteran, even though i don't verbalize it on the phone. casey: pretty easy to fall
2:38 am
into that. i want to ask one more question. in your case, the fake charity used the bank and routing number from a check you have sent them, to take money out of your account. as you referred to in your testimony, they used that information to create a "remotely-generated check," a phrase of art. this type of check is legal, but only when the account holder gives permission for the money to be withdrawn. you mentioned you were shocked when you found out. clearly, you were not aware of the remotely generated check before this, nor was i, until you brought it to our attention. is there anything you wish that your credit union could have done prior to the funds being removed to confirm you did not give your consent? now that you are on the others of it? mr. foreman: it would be nice, if the financial institution,
2:39 am
they know the sequence of your checks. normally they sort by the marked sequence. my organization always puts an asterisk after there is a skipped check. in my case, at that time the check series was like 2600, -- 3600, and one was coded 9000. you would think that would set off some kind of bowel -the- financialthe organization. i wish it was that way, but it didn't happen. sen. collins: thank you. senator? sen. braun: amazing we are discussing this. it seems there is a farm system of bilkers out there.
2:40 am
do you know when that particular individual started that scam, and is it still going on? the folks who get into the business of bilking, do you know? speculating,am but it sounded like the operation was fairly new by how they were describing it. afterwards, i did a search. when i first had contact with them, i had their business card and i kicked myself for getting rid of it. but i did a recent search, and couldn't find anything under that name any longer. also going off of memory for the names. sen. braun: they could have faded into the sunset, with what they did. and laverne, do you know if the disabled and paralyzed vets fund is still out there sending solicitations? mr. foreman: i don't think so.
2:41 am
as far as i know, they have been shut down. sen. braun: i know even just running a company, when it comes nothecks, that does discriminate in any way. we constantly in our own company will find checks where they get your check, do a reproduction, and in this case 9000 out of context with 3000. it seems like the institutions themselves, i know we have had discussions before, what is the responsibility of phone companies, or banks, when it comes to -- a lot of this step should be easy to ferret out among the institutions used to process these scams. againstous, the battle this. is the lifespan short of the scammers?
2:42 am
when you get rid of one, do you have two or three cropping up? what is the trendline? getting worse, getting better? seems there's a lot of tools out there technologically where if the institutions used, banks, phone companies, were on their game, you could figure this out before it becomes rampant. d.a. richardson: from what i can tell, it is dependent on whether the scammers call. thehis investigation, actions and started over 10 years ago, and it wasn't until seven years later that she was convicted for her crimes. in doing so, i learned that in california she had made contact with other scammers, and two other individuals started a business with her. looking at their background, both of them previously had problems with the law. so who knows to what extent they
2:43 am
have done it, or may still be doing it. sen. braun: because that had been disguised of having some legitimacy, in the sense he would get a good return, but similar to madoff where you didn't have to pay out. in this case, $50 on $2 million. there's a lot to be said. we need to do a better job of preventing, getting the institutions that are normally the vehicle, whether a bank or a phone company, more involved. because what is your, the postal service is used so often as an agent for this. are you finding more? is it stabilizing? less? what is the prognosis look for down the road? inspector harris: the postal service has no interest in being an unwitting participant in any of these scams or schemes. as long as there is commerce, there will be scams and schemes,
2:44 am
hence the existence of the inspection service. we will continue to engage in the fight. it is still alive and well. it evolves. robocalls, and the good work of the senate to stop them, an example of a digital evolution. but eventually, they connect to the mail. we move communications, commerce, physical goods, and eventually the conspiracies at times will work their way into our web. that is when we catch them and engage with federal partners, seeking a whole of government approach. sen. casey: are you more alert now? methods, policies to prevent it, or are you generally reacting? inspector harris: we use both. we believe strongly in prevention, prevention messaging, optimizing the messaging we give to the public, the american consumer. we also vigorously enforce the
2:45 am
laws as they are written, so it is both. we have been doing both, for decades. sen. braun: thank you. sen. collins: thank you. senator jones? sen. jones: thank you, madam chair, and thank you to all the witnesses for being here. really appreciate all we are hearing today, especially from a fellow prosecutor, and postal inspector. i worked with them a lot as u.s. attorney. madam chair, i couldn't help but think as we were listening to this, concerning illegal scams and criminal activity, i hear the same phrases of diverting pretenses, taking hard earned money from veterans, particularly protecting and caring for our widows, orphans and elderly. i cannot help but think about a somewhat legal scam, i will say it, that you and i have been working on, the elimination of
2:46 am
the veterans military widows tax. the congress of the united states is allowing that to be diverted and changed, and i appreciate your work so much on helping us, and i am hopeful we can get that in our ndaa this year to eliminate that scam once and for all. i'd like to focus initially, my harris.ddy and mr. because i know firsthand, these are difficult to track down and prosecute, and technology is changing, and it seems like when i was a prosecutor, and even as a defense lawyer some, it seemed the bad guys were always a couple steps ahead. they were able to work and do things. so, what tools do you need? are there other tools you could use right now, to both track down and prosecute? i appreciate the idea of, of
2:47 am
deterring, trying to make awareness, and that's wonderful that we are trying to do that. but we aren't going to stop this. it's going to continue. what can we do as a congress, to if you additional tools -- give you additional tools on the state and federal level to stop these guys in their tracks, so it is not years before they are apprehended? the inspections: service has been in consultation with the department of justice, oureek an expansion of administrative subpoena authority to be on par with other department of justice, federal law enforcement agencies, so we can do more, quicker to fight fraud or any of the other 200 federal statutes we enforce, to maximize the existence of our resources. that is something we are in the consultant -- in consultation with the department of justice. we believe they are exploring a legislative approach to help us
2:48 am
become on par with other doj entities. your continued support of federal law enforcement partners, your efforts to stop robo calls, i applaud. i believe we are making a dent, forcing criminal conspirators to evolve. d.a. richardson: mr. jones, thank you for the question. from what i have noticed, there are a lot of businesses like that. she operated a business called medicaid planning specialists, senior benefit, all these sound legitimate. there are many other businesses like this. i'd think if companies such as this are required to register, or have various qualifications to administer the services they are telling their constituents
2:49 am
they can provide, that may give some benefit. if those preparers were required applications, the telling the constituents they are providing medicaid services, veteran benefit services. if they are required, like a tax preparer, to sign off and put their name on the dotted line and say they are responsible for the information, some kind of record, who was involved. sen. jones: i really appreciate that, and would urge both of you senator cottonll and senator warner have to update our money-laundering statutes. we have it pending now, hoping to get it through, and it would address that very issue. the issue of beneficial ownership, and require an index, a list of beneficial owners of
2:50 am
all these shell corporations out there performing these scams. thank you, and i would urge the d.a.'s association to get involved. mcsally: thank you for having this important hearing. thank you for sharing your testimony, especially mr. foreman. i know there are so many like you who aren't willing to come forward and share your testimony of what you went through, so thank you for that. these scams are coming in so money forms. as a veteran myself, there is a special place in hell for these people scamming our heroes, who raised the right hand, took an oath of office, gave the ultimate -- willing to give the ultimate sacrifice. now in a vulnerable place, in their older years or at whatever age, going after these people. i really appreciate this hearing, and we need to do more, everything it takes, to find them, track them down and hold
2:51 am
them accountable. this is infuriating. these scams come in many different forms, as you shared. one of which was highlighted in arizona recently, where you have civilians who think they are meeting a military member on a dating app for some other way, serving overseas and they need some help. civilians are being roped into oneng for our military, and air force base is receiving many calls from civilians asking, is this person really in the military, are they really deployed, and they are having to help work that out. using people's love for our veterans and military to scam other civilians. i don't know if you can share anything on the perspective, as veterans and military identities are being stolen to create these false profiles. on what we cant, do to protect the veterans'
2:52 am
are scamminghat others? inspector harris: continued expansion of the messaging we are providing. generally speaking, in order to protect, it's something we should do. hearings like this. other community outreach. identity theft is an international epidemic, and veterans are affected like the rest of society. we need to take a societal approach to solving this, a whole of government approach from the government side, but it is also outside of government, being that foxhole buddy for someone who needs a friend, having someone check before you make a financial decision. sen. mcsally: thank you. we hear these awful stories, and you don't trust anybody now, you don't trust legitimate charities calling or soliciting you, and i can have a really negative effect on those who really need our support. i want to highlight another scam. as a veteran, i get some of
2:53 am
these things in the mail. maybe not an official scam in the way it is identified, but i get these letters, i have been getting one a week lately. i brought them with me to d.c., because i'm so mad about it. administrative notice, our review has indicated your v.a. expired,ing period has keep this notice for your record. it is all nonsense. my equity reserve. i knew something was off, because my name is "sally martha mc" on here. this is an actual bank, federal savings bank, i will call that out now. praying upon our veterans. someone going on this, thinking they need to call these people. it looks like it's from the government, and you think something is expired. they are preying on our vets to cash out or pay ridiculous closing fees for what looks like a legitimate loan. it is misleading, confusing, and
2:54 am
we see more and more veterans complaining about these. i am getting one of these a week. imagine veterans who call this number and end up refinancing their home loan that they don't need to be doing, for some interest rate and closing cost that is robbing them of their hard-earned resources. so this stuff needs to stop, too, and i will see if we can work on this at the v.a. committee to tighten up these scams, too, because they are confusing and misleading for veterans. are you aware, mr. wells, of these other activities going on robbing our veterans? 2= get a bunch of th --mr. wells: i get a bunch of those, and i throw them out. i get them about refinancing my home. ed mortgage.a.-back benefit, and since then have gotten plenty, either telling me that my v.a.-backed mortgage is going away or i need to communicate with some entity. luckily, i have the wherewithal
2:55 am
to read the fine print and recognize it is unofficial, but i can only imagine, if i think back to the veteran that i was working with, in failing health and struggling. something like that comes across, why not? -- mcsally: thank you all for your testimony. ema: thank you, chair. i apologize, i didn't see senator blumenthal had come back. at thellins: he was here very beginning. i apologize. senator blumenthal. blumenthal: thank you very much, madam chair, and thank you for having this hearing. as long as i have been a prosecutor, when i was attorney general in connecticut, i've tried to help veterans, this
2:56 am
issue has been a perennial one. i have to say, i was particularly moved by senator casey's opening remarks when he referred to his dad, and the to bet about seeking worthy of the service of our veterans. one of those areas where i think we often fail is to protect them from exactly these kinds of scams. i recently sent a letter to secretary wilkie, along with our colleagues, calling attention to this problem. i just came from a hearing of the veterans affairs committee, involving new judges at the court of veteran claims. this issue is one that is pervasive and ongoing, and i mr. to ask perhaps first foreman, if i may. thank you, along with the others, for being here today and
2:57 am
for your service. i appreciate you sharing your personal experience with us. i imagine it is pretty frustrating to be here. [laughter] mr. foreman: yes. blumenthal: you shared you frequently donate to charities that actually support veterans. kind of scam, this is one of the most prevalent. your fellowo advise veterans, in identifying a legitimate charity versus a fraudulent one, what would be the signs that you would point out to them? is there any way of telling? mr. foreman: not really. longevity is what i used today. those that i know have been around, you know. using names, american legion,
2:58 am
vfw, uso, wounded warrior. some of those i am familiar with. but it could be an at standing charity that i had never heard of. sen. blumenthal: and some of them are look-alikes. mr. foreman: yes. sen. blumenthal: mr. harris,, can the v.a. do more in your experience to protect veterans? inspector harris: thank you for the question, senator. i am incredibly thankful for what the v.a. has done for me and other veterans over the years. i have been a recipient of care at the v.a. for multiple procedures. we can always do more. any government entity can find opportunities to do more, and i appreciate any attention, guidance and oversight they are given,, so they can optimize the way they watch out for, care for, inform, empower and inspire veterans. blumenthal: i know you are
2:59 am
sympathetic to the v.a., and so am i. whether they devote enough resources to making veterans aware, alerting them, and also reporting, doing wells hasf work mr. been doing with his colleagues and fellow veterans? should they be doing more? inspector harris: i can't speak as to all of their programs. i am not a subject matter expert. i can say that they have been a good partner of the inspection service, allowing us to extend messaging through their podcast, extending messaging on their blog. but i am not a subject matter expert on exactly what they have in place, as far as prevention programs, besides the ones with which we partnered with them. sen. blumenthal: let me just say, you know,
3:00 am
sen. blumenthal: let me just say, you know, the postal service and postal inspectors do great great work in this area. they are really unappreciated i think in a lot of what they do. people think of law enforcement as the fbi or the dea, but what i found as u.s. attorney and attorney general was that the guys who really put these cases together are often postal inspectors and they're able to track down some of the perpetrators of these frauds. so i'm hopeful that the va can take advantage of those skills and make use of them that her. my time is expired, but i appreciate all of you being here today. thank you very much. >> thank you. senator scott? senator scott: i want to thank chairman collins and ranking member casey for putting this together.
3:01 am
i think i served in the navy. i haven't had a situation where they tried today scam me that i know of. if they have, i didn't know it. who you think about is guys like my dad who served, had a sixth grade education and he never had any money and it would have been devastating to him if any of this had happened to him. i remember one time where someone came to buy one of his cars and never came back. he was such a trusting person. he would have been an easy person to be a target. in 2018, the federal trade commission received three million fraud and identity theft complaints. i introduced a bill that's called the identity theft victims protection act which is -- if you've been the victim rather than going on your record that they mess up your credit, it goes on the record of the person that did it to you. i know the v.a. has a hotline to deal with identity theft. what else should we be doing with regard to identity theft to help our veterans. i think my dad -- you know,
3:02 am
he probably would have been an easy target. mr. wells: off the top of my head, i'm not an expert on this, but i imagine if we had a system where identity theft for veterans rose to a higher level of prosecution, you know, to have it being something as maybe a protected class or a higher level. i think also protecting the veterans' information and dissemination for information whether it's through outreach, va or other systems. when you get out of the military, they want you to register for all these things. you kind of get in the mode of i'm going to put out a name and social security number and have an awareness or training at the end of the active duty service members enlistment. you know, maybe stop doing that. it is very common to go to medical in the military and name and social security. name and social security. all of your forms always.
3:03 am
so maybe introduce a little bit more awareness as these things are out there and to protect your own personal information. senator scott: mr. foreman? i think one of the things is a failure to recognize that a lot of us veterans, especially from my era don't have computer, smartphones, we aren't on facebook, aren't on all the new things. i've gone 21 years without a television. i have no computer in my house. and so i don't have all of this. i read the paper. i listen to the radio. that's where i get my information, from magazines, newspaper, radio. so all of the efforts that are being done on these more modern fancy things, they're going over
3:04 am
my head. senator scott: it wouldn't help you? >> i'm sure there's a lot of -- you figure the homeless vets, you know, they're missing out, too. there's a lot of us older veterans that aren't in the social media. sen. scott: mr. richardson? mr. richardson: i would think similar to what mr. foreman said, it's a matter of meeting those veterans or meeting those potential victims where you find them. as he stated, some may not use one type of media or may use another. many of them may have been reached through mail. where the postal service may get involved or whether maybe the va can get involved. not only creating awareness of the potential scams, because just -- there are scammers out there there are trying to reach potential victims, because especially with veterans, especially with our older
3:05 am
population, if they have money, the scammers want that money. so and it's a matter of finding and reaching those potential victims and veterans where you find them, and reaching out and raising awareness to them as far as what to look for. because as the crimes often evolve, we also have to raise awareness and evolve the way that we create awareness to those potential victims. sen. scott: mr. harris. mr. harris: i would echo what da richardson shared, enhanced education and awareness with the target audience and the veteran population. they have an incredible infrastructure to do this. they have face-to-face time through all of the other activities that already exist as part of what the department of veterans affairs is doing to care for its veterans. i'd say the opportunity exists, and i appreciate you asking that question. >> thank you, chairman. >> thank you very much.
3:06 am
senator sinema. sinema: thank you, ranking member. in today's hearing on protecting our nation. arizona has a long and proud tradition of military service. one in ten is a veteran and more than half are aged 65 and older. we owe them a deep debt of gratitude. it's horrible that scammers dlibrattly target veterans or take advantage of their desire to contribute to charitities. a story from arizona is jack holder. he's a world war ii veteran and a resident of sun lakes, arizona. he survived the attack on pearl harbor and he fought in aerial combat overseas but in 2016, he as targeted by fraudsters in scam that robbed him of $43,000. that was nearly his entire life savings. jack survived pearl harbor and
3:07 am
watched his wife of nearly 70 years succumb to alzheimer's disease, but he describes realizing when he realized he had been the victim of a scam as the worst day. -- day of his life. he shares his story despite the embarrassment he feels because he doesn't want this happening to anyone else, and that is why i've made it my mission to protect arizonans from these crimes. last year, i worked with chairman collins to pass the senior safe act which empowers financial institutions to report suspected instances of elder financial abruce and fraud. this year, we've continued our work by introducing a force to exchangeorce at the commission to protect seniors from financial crimes and the antispoofing penalties modernization act which would increase penalties for criminals who use robo calls to harass seniors and veterans. but there is still so much work to be done, and that leads me to our first question -- my first question for inspector harris and da richardson.
3:08 am
earlier this year, i shared the story of maggie who's elderly parents were robbed of their life savings in a sweepstakes scam. maggie's father is a veteran of the air force living with alzheimer's and their family lost much of what they had saved from his military pension. in cases like maggie's family and jack's, are there ways to help people financially recover after they've been robbed? can they get help through military pension? requiring restitution from the criminals? the tax code? if there aren't ways for them to get restitution, what barriers prevent them from getting some of their life savings back? >> thank you for the question, senator. from the criminal standpoint, one of the barriers is being able to locate and try to secure those assets.
3:09 am
in many instances these criminals are spending it just as they get it. in my case, paul sidney did this over a case of years and as she continued to scam different victims, some of them she used that money to pay benefits to pay benefits that she told other victims that they would receive month-to-month. she would have spent that money and scammed others in order to pay paul when she had stolen from him. if there's an avenue to allow prosecutors, well, to tie into resources of that defendant and be able to, they're required to make payment but oftentimes we find it's over a period of time, and they set a nominal fee and that family has lost thousands and millions of dollars.
3:10 am
>> i would echo the same sentiments. the challenge we face in some of the investigations we conduct is that they have been burning through in a typical ponzi scheme where they've spent what they had from before. so sometimes getting assets to recover they just don't exist. they've already been expended or distributed. in those cases, it's challenging. one thing i do feel compelled to share is through aarp's fraughtd watch network, families can reach out and get a live person that can help them navigate these difficult circumstances. if they think they have a loved one who's being victimized, they can get a live person. the many people that work these lines have been involved in a scam or scheme before. they have a deep passion. they're not judgmental. they can help people. they can determine resources, determine which agencies to refer to, and help with level setting of financial status to get someone back on track in life. sen. sinema: thank you. thank you, chairman.
3:11 am
senator collins: thank you. gillibrand. perfect timing, there. thank you,librand: madam chairwoman and mr. ranking member. mr. richardson, thank you for your important work to prosecute these scammers and bring justice to these victims of financial fraud. we know from your testimony how these scammers like to take their schemes across state lines so they are harder to track down. do you think we could be betweenting more agencies? d.a. richardson: yes, as i tell the people i work with, there is always more we can do. and in this particular instance, i received calls from other agencies that were conducting other investigations. later on down the line, when my office was first contacted about the ward case, paul sidney had
3:12 am
already been doing this for a number of years throughout the state of mississippi, and because was there no communication or no way for me to know in northern mississippi what's happening in southern mississippi, there's no way for me to bring awareness to my victims or hold her accountable. sen. gillibrand: do you think we could centerlize some services like a national data base, help law enforcement prosecutors bring these cases to justice? do -- justice? do you think we should put resources and organization behind that? d.a. richardson: i would think -- thank you for the question. i would definitely think that resources to provide awareness or to provide a centralized location for agencies or whether it's providing more funding to one particular agency to provide that source, because what we find is that the numbers are not going to stop. but if there's not communication between states, between local agencies within a state, then there's no way to stop those individuals. because in this instance, once paul sidney was caught in
3:13 am
mississippi and had been in jail and knew the convictions were coming, she moved to california. and it was only through the postal service that california stopped some of those. sen. gillibrand: so mr. harris, you've done great work with operation protect veterans to raise awareness. as a veteran and marine corps reservist yourself, you know how to communicate effectively about this complicated issue. but could use some help? do you think the federal government, like the ftc, could be doing more to listen to experts like you and to disseminate information targetsg fraud that older americans? >> i will always welcome help. our organization seeks to partner actively and we've worked with other entities in the past and will continue do do so to the best of our ability. we believe in sharing information, deconflicting cases, using the whole of government approach, to bring
3:14 am
are of federal law enforcement in cooperation with state and local to get the best impact and find all the facts. sen. gillibrand: what else can congress and the u.s. government do to verify legitimate charity organizations against fraudulent ones? what role should the government play to make sure the credibility of the veterans charity organization is maintained and individuals who want to contribute can do so with full confidence that they are not being scammed? >> i'm aware the department of veterans affairs list they maintain to determine what is a good charitable organization. i do not know how they adjudicate that list. i welcome support given to them to make sure that anyone who's interacting with a veteran is not doing so with a nefarious purpose. sen. gillibrand: thank you. mr. wells, thank you for coming to share your important story about how to prevent these scams before they happen. does the federal government need tostep up and do more
3:15 am
provide resources to organizations like that to that -- vet to vet to carry out fraud prevention services to protect older citizens? mr. wells: absolutely. vet to vet has just gotten a 503 status. it's run by one full-time and one part-time staffer. they manage and organize 60 volunteers and have 100 interactions. that is a drop in the bucket for how many veterans that are in just the state of maine and as we talked about in other states. i think federal, state, anybody who has the funding, the ability, the resources could make that more robust. sen. gillibrand: i was very moved by mr. foreman's story. mr. richardson, what are the experiences of victims after a scam, and what options do they have for justice? could a victim be able to get their money back? who can they turn for for help?
3:16 am
d.a. richardson: well, in every instance, they need to report to law enforcement. but the question of whether or not they get their money back. it's a sad conversation to have, but in each and every one that i've had whether it's my victim or victims in other case -- the same case throughout the state, they knew they weren't going to get the money back. the harsh reality is i couldn't find the words to say, it's not going to happen. you won't. but they can get some sense of justice, and the victims i've spoken with after the case is over, all many of them wanted was to receive some of their family's benefits back because in each and every instance, the family lost everything and knew they weren't going to get it back. senator collins: thank you. senator rosen. rosen: thank you, madam chair and ranking member for always bringing such thoughtful hearings here. i real appreciate the work you are all doing. i am so sorry you are a victim and thankful you are here to illuminate this issue for others.
3:17 am
i represent the great state of nevada and we are home to over 220,000 veterans and nearly 20,000 service members. according to nevada's attorney general's office, the most common scams affecting our service members, people we're speaking about, this fradlent -- fraudulent mortgage relief forms, high interest military loan scams, and identity theft. in fact, it's such a problem, nevada is one of the top three states in the nation per capita of reported identity theft. so veterans in my state who experience scams or fraud can turn to the attorney general's office of military legal assistance, which provide them free legal assistance and representation and the olma is doing excellent work to try to protect our veterans who have sacrificed like you all to protect us. but in my state, we also have the nevada senior medicare patrol program. it routinely has a presence at community events and health fairs geared towards veterans.
3:18 am
for example, we just had our third veterans extravaganza. they're filled with all kinds of information for veterans. the hard-working volunteers, they try to educate and empower older veterans about medicare, medicaid, fraud, best practices, so on and so forth. and so mr. wells, would you please talk about the training that your volunteers at the vet to vets in maine get in order to help them identify and target these scams, so when they're out at these community events that happen all across the country they are more able to discuss this. mr. wells: yeah, so part of what we were given training on, how do identify and protect personal information, pii, just the general sort of rules of don't give out your social security number, be wary about anybody
3:19 am
asking you to open checking accounts or for services. we were also given awareness of the legitimate programs that do exist that can provide benefits, how to identify what those programs are and what the need is. i think that's an important part. if somebody knows there's an organization that can fill your need and directed toward them, establishedh -- an organization that has been around, that's going to curb a lot of this, at least in my case, the looking for other organizations or potentially fraudulent organizations. sen. rosen: i think that your organization does a great job, and i hope that we could find a way to package your training and export that to communities across the country who could really benefit from this. one of the other questions that i really have also in the training is, how do -- when senior centers, churches, or synagogues, or just community centers have these events for
3:20 am
doerans or for seniors, how they know -- how can we help them best vet as organizers, people who are coming and showing up and paying for a booth at one of these veterans fairs or seniors fairs that again, happen all across the country? anyone have an idea about that? best practice, perhaps? mr. wells: yeah, i can help a little bit with that. i would say having a centerlized data base. i know there's work being done at the v.a. currently. in our v.a. in maine, if were to contact the coordinators there's a social worker on staff that periodically updates her list and the brochure list of active organizations that she's made contact with, made referrals to, and can say as as a matter of charitablethis organization does good work, bad work, and can give you insight on that. that's just a single office and single entity.
3:21 am
sen. rosen: i wonder if we need something like the better business bureau, that these are the certified places that, if you're going plan to have an event like at your church or community center, senior center, these are the ones that get the stamp of approval and maybe there's a central way we could check across the country to avoid people being targeted right in their home area. thank you. sen. collins: thank you, senator. i think you bring up a very good point. if you go to a fair, a veterans services and see a booth there, you're going to assume that someone screened it, that it's legitimate. and with all the sound-alike charities and all the needs out there, and the generosity that people feel towards the veterans and that population to one another, it's easy to see how these scams succeed. i think your point is a good one.
3:22 am
d.a. richardson, i want to ask you my final question of this hearing. first of all, you deserve great praise and credit for putting behindorious con artist bars. that was a great win. i know you had to deal with california as well, and it was a complex case. and i'm grateful to you and your office manager for not giving up and for the critical role that you played in tracking her down and bringing her to justice. it is discouraging to know that none of the victims have been repaid any significant
3:23 am
restitution. and many of them lost their family's entire life savings through -- to this totally unscrupulous individual. i'm also concerned to learn that miss palacini will be released as early as june of next year, having served only a fraction of the 20 years she was served with state and runral charges that concurrently. that makes me wonder whether we need to look at the punishments and penalties for this kind of fraud. do you have any advice for us? d.a. richardson: i would come would, and i -- i do, and thank you, chairman collins. in this case, if you look at it, yes, she was sentenced to 20 years to serve on three different counties in mississippi. one county ten years, one county
3:24 am
seven years, my county three years. all to run consecutive. i wanted to make sure that our sentence was our the last one and ran after the rest of them, because we noticed the magnitude of the crimes that she committed against our elderly and veterans. but the harsh reality is that in mississippi for a nonviolent offense, you're only required to serve 25% of your time and you can also receive other trusty -- other trustee status to get time knocked off. for our victims, that is what they are angriest about. they can't imagine how they can get paroled after what she's done and hasn't paid us a cent. in the case of wayne county, there's a baptist minister who practiced for 25 years, brother wright.
3:25 am
we, in working on our ward case. we noticed through facebook and found communications about the wright family, and their facebook page was brother bobby wright, be his voice. and that case, palasini took his and his brother-in-law's entire life savings. that's the only case i've seen she paid restitution and that's because she paid an initial sum of $20,000 when she pled guilty. she still owed a debt of $209,000. that, they'll never see. he's currently in a nursing home suffering from alzheimer's. whatcould be done and should be done is that, in mississippi and on the federal level, i don't know if it's the case, but there's enhanced punishments for crimes against the elderly, but that's only on violent offenses.
3:26 am
what i would recommend and what i would support is if there's some type of enhancement to crimes when you're dealing with elderly victims in all cases or you are dealing with veterans in all cases, and maybe there's some type of mandatory sentencing when you're looking at the financial burden that's imposed on those victims, maybe there is a a graduated scale. because in this instance, over $2.5 million was totally ordered in restitution. and i can assure you that there are still victims out there. if we put out a public service notice and ask for anyone to call us about any crimes about palacini, we will find other victims. if there was something to be sure she was held accountable or scammers like her are, and not only receive the same penalty as the average person that committed a nonviolent offense, but it's a different problem when you're scamming and you're
3:27 am
taking away the life savings of our veterans and elderly and so something to hold them accountable. thank you. sen. collins: thank you so much for that recommendation. she clearly is a criminal without any conscience at all and essentially in some cases seemed to be running a pyramid scheme. and what is so tragic about this is when the victims are elderly, there's no way for them to recoup that money. they need that money at a very vulnerable time in their lives, such as the gentleman that you mentioned with alzheimer's who's in a nursing home. so we've got long-term care costs. it's just -- it just seems so wrong that there isn't some sort
3:28 am
of consideration or enhanced penalty when the victims are not receiving restitution, they are older americans, and they've served their country. it seems that there should be some sort of additional penalty that the judge would at least have the discretion to impose. yes. d.a. richardson: and what's most disheartening in this case is that palacini, and as i looked at her status in the bureau of prisons her release date has been moved out. now it's in 2020. we spent just as much if not more time tracking her down and having her brought back to mississippi and brought back to justice as she would have probably served in custody. that's not fair to our victims. sen. collins: i totally agree with you, and that is a very good summary of what is wrong.
3:29 am
thank you. senator kerry. senator kerry: -- senator casey: just want to put something on the record as we conclude. we made reference to the letter that we're sending to the va, addressed to the honorable robert wilkie who is a secretary of the veteran's administration. i wanted to put on the record, because it's not something we're doing as a routine matter. here's the progression of facts and information. aarp, i think i erroneously said before it was the gao -- aarp said nearly quote, 80% of veterans have reported being targeted by a scam related to their veteran status. that is point number point one. number two, gao in this report in october of this year made a
3:30 am
number of findings. but here's the basis of the -- here is the crux of the findings. the gao says the v.a. receives reports of potential fraud and exploitation, but -- and here's the problem -- the agency does not centrally collect or analyze the information to number one, assess the prevalence of the scams, number two, to outreach efforts, or number three, help law enforcement pursue scrammers. so the gao sends the findings to the v.a.. the v.a.'s response, in part, was recommending that an alternative approach be pursued that would be a referral process to the federal trade commission. the reason why virtually every member of the committee signed our letter to the va is because we all concluded, not good enough, v.a.
3:31 am
we don't just criticize them on a regular basis, but when the v.a. responds to a gao report like that and suggests some other agency should be taking the full measure of responsibility for it, we had to send this. we had no choice. we had to send this letter. just for the record, here's what we're asking the v.a. in this letter. not tough questions, but important ones. basically five questions. i'll summarize them quickly. number one, has the v.a. examined the extent to which america's veterans have been victimized by this type of scam? number two, how is the va working with federal and state agencies and stakeholder groups to protect veterans? from financial fraud? number three, what has the va done to educate veterans? very -- veterans? very important that they do that. number four, how will the va's proposed response in response to gao's recommendation provide the
3:32 am
agency with the ability to assess the prevalence of scams targeting veterans and perform outreach and education efforts? i think it's a very reasonable question for the v.a. number five, what plans does the v.a. have to increase these efforts? what further legislative or regulatory authority does the va need to do so? i think reasonable questions. if the v.a. comes back and says, you the congress needs to give us more authority, we should work on that. if they say you, the congress, should give us more appropriations, we'll work on that. but the response to say, this is a job for the federal trade commission or some other agency just isn't good enough. so that's why they're getting a letter. and we don't always agree on everything around here, but we agree on this. madam chair, thanks for the time for that. sen. collins: thank you very much. and you know that i totally
3:33 am
agree with you that the v.a. could do more in this area. just because they're a central point of contact for so many veterans. and i know i said i'd asked my last question, but mr. harris, just a quick one for you. this excellent brochure that the postal service inspection service has collaborated with aarp on, is this also in addition to being in post office lobbies, is it also at v.a. andics and hospitals, cbox, community veteran centers? d.a. richardson: thank you for that question, chairman collins. we've been in consultation with the department of veterans affairs seeking to get distribution through their show ir networks.
3:34 am
to date, we haven't. sen. collins: we'll follow up on that, because a lot of veterans have contact with the va and with community based clinics. and this would be a great publication for them to pick up. so thank you for your good work. i want to thank all of our witnesses for their contributions to our hearing today. as we have heard, americans, veterans are now confronting a newer enemy, and that is relentless criminals. i'm not going to call them scammers or con artists. let's call them what they are. they are criminals who are seeking to steal the life savings from our veterans, from those who have done their part and served our country, and to profit from their personal information, as well. sometimes, these criminals seek to perpetuate the same scams that we've examined many times
3:35 am
but even more insidious, oftentimes these criminals are targeting our veterans with the kinds of schemes that we've heard described today. and we've learned that there are many ways to fight these schemes that are targeting our veterans. operation protect veterans seeks to prevent scams through education. vet to vet in maine uses camaraderie between veterans as a way to fight back. veterans like mr. foreman who are also on the lookout for their fellow veterans and inspector harris, as well, also play an important role. and of course, there's no substitute for the kind of persistence that d.a. richardson and his staff demonstrated in tracking down and prosecuting these criminals.
3:36 am
like senator casey, i want the v.a. to step up its game, as well, and assist us in protecting our veterans. i am very appreciative of your all being here today. committee members will have until friday, november 15, to submit questions for the record. and i will turn to senator casey for any final comments. senator casey: chairman collins, thank you for holding this very, very important hearing today. in my second line of my closing remarks, i crossed the out scammers and conartists and put criminals. so i'm going to read it as she suggested. the criminals, because that's the right word, criminals who steal from our veterans are the worst kind. i said it in earlier, they're the scum of the earth. i don't know what more i can say. there are just so many ways to describe how bad they are. after a commitment to serve our country and defend our freedom,
3:37 am
veterans should not have to fear answering the phone or being confronted by perpetrators of fraud. no one should, veteran or not. as i said to laverne earlier, i'm not a veteran, but i would have sent the 25 and the 35 or the 20 then the 25 and the 35. i think a lot of people would. this committee has consistently worked to combat frauds and scams and will continue to do so, but i am pleased that we held this hearing today ahead of the veterans day holiday coming up next week. the criminals perpetrating these schemes will undoubtedly double down in the coming days, which means those of us trying to prevent them from being successful must also double down. and i hope the v.a. will do that, as well. i want to thank the chairman again for her willingness to have this hearing and thank you to each and every one of our witnesses for being here today.
3:38 am
and of course, thank you to our veterans for what they have contributed to our country and we'll say happy veterans day early. thanks very much. sen. collins: as the daughter of a world war ii veteran who was wounded twice in the battle of the bulge, this is an issue that matters greatly to me as well. i'm sure we'll continue our efforts to combat it as i know our witnesses will. thank you all for being here. this hearing is now adjourned. [gavel]
3:39 am
3:40 am
>> the house will be in order. >> for 40 years, c-span has been providing america unfiltered coverage of congress, the white house, the supreme court, and public policy events from washington, d.c. and around the country so you can make up the ron kind. created by cable -- make up your own mind. c-span is brought to you by your local cable or satellite provider. c-span, your unfiltered view of government. live friday on the c-span networks, democratic presidential candidate joe biden holds a rally at the new hampshire state house after filing candidacy paperwork for the first in the nation primary. that is 1:00 p.m. on c-span and at 3:00 p.m., president trump delivers marks -- for march in atlanta. grogan discusses health care policy in an event hosted by the alliance for health policy at 9:00 a.m.
3:41 am
at 12:13, the acting director of the national counterterrorism center discusses town of terrorism policy at the washington institute. affairsn3, veterans secretary robert wilkie discusses goals and priorities at the national press club in washington, d.c.. >> last sunday in new hampshire, 2020 presidential candidates tulsi gabbard, john delaney, maryann wilson, bill wells came together to discuss climate change and the national debt. many talked about working across party lines to address climate change and the national debt. >> thank you.


info Stream Only

Uploaded by TV Archive on