By Abigail Worthing
Staff Writer

KENNEBUNK – Police officer Candice Simeoni has a simple tip for senior citizens who find themselves on the receiving end of unsolicited phone calls: “I wish I could talk to every elder and let them know it’s OK to hang up,” said Simeoni.

Simeoni, of the Kennebunk Police Department, testified before the Senate Aging Committee on Jan. 16 during a hearing to discuss phone scams designed to defraud the elderly.
Simeoni testified in Washington, D.C. at the invitation of Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), who is chairman of the Senate Aging Committee.
Simeoni is administrative supervisor at Kennebunk Police Department and has been a leader in combating elder abuse in the state of Maine for the past 15 years, founding the York County Elder Abuse Task Force in 2005, of which she is the president.
During the past year, Simeoni has worked on 77 cases of elder justice cases. The losses from these scams have ranged from hundreds of dollars up to entire estates.
The Jan. 16 hearing was the 22nd in the past six years to deal directly with cases of scams that affect seniors.

Senior scams are considered, according to the National Council on Aging, to be the “crime of the 21st century.” Seniors are often prey to fraudulent schemes due to the large sums of money sitting in their accounts.
Due to the “low risk” nature of the crimes, these scams can be hard to prosecute and often go unreported due to the embarrassing nature of being defrauded out of significant portions of savings. Simeoni testified that seniors fear losing their independence and often can’t believe that someone would take advantage of them. Of the reported scams, 90 percent are perpetrated by a loved one or family member.
According to a list compiled by the National Council on Aging, the top 10 senior scams are Medicare related phishing calls, where a caller impersonates a representative to gain access to personal information. Seniors are also susceptible to buying counterfeit prescription drugs on the internet, funeral scams during which a scammer will prey on grieving family members and assert that the deceased owed them a debt, fraudulent anti-aging products, internet fraud, reverse mortgage and investment schemes, sweepstakes, telemarketing and grandparent schemes.

For grandparent scams, a caller will convince the senior on the other end that their grandchild (or other family member) is in danger and needs a large sum of money immediately to remedy the situation. For many seniors, the fraudulent nature of these calls can be realized too late, after the transfer of funds has already taken place. According to the Senate Aging Committee, more than $3 billion a year is stolen annually from seniors through these scams.
“Some seniors are too polite on the phone,” Collins said during the Jan. 16 hearing. “We see that in Maine all the time.”
Simeoni was one of four who testified about the senior citizen scams. Others included Arizona Attorney General Derek Schmidt, Elder Justice Consultant Judith Kozlowski, and Erika Flavin, the daughter of a couple defrauded by a senior citizen scam.
“We need to move forward now with protecting our elders. The state of Maine would be an incredible place to start greater initiatives,” Simeoni testified. “Together we could pave the way to being the example for other states to follow.”

Following her testimony, Simeoni fielded questions from members of the committee.
When asked about creating wider-spread awareness of senior schemes, Simeoni cited a favorite senior resource: public access television. While many seniors will show up for meetings when they are advertised, Simeoni said those aren’t usually the ones who need to be the most informed on scams. Television PSAs, however, tailored to each community, could help reach vulnerable seniors. She also emphasized that story-driven information would be a more effective tool to convey the information as opposed to a lecture or workshop.
“Real Mainers being victims,” Simeoni said. “We need peer lectures, peer stories.”

During the hearing, Collins unveiled the 2019 Aging Committee’s Fraud Book, a handbook detailing the top 10 most prominent senior scams and how to spot them.
“No one should ever fear answering the telephone,” said Ranking Member Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) at the conclusion of the hearing. “Our loved ones shouldn’t be concerned over who’s on the other end.”
“I have been working hard in my state for years and I am at a point where I need help at the federal level,” Simeoni said. “I hope we can work toward fighting this ‘touchy subject,’ ‘the hidden epidemic,’ so that the statistics do not increase the way they are predicted to.”

Contact Staff Writer Abigail Worthing at [email protected]

Candice Simeoni, of the Kennebunk Police Department, testifies before the Senate Aging Committee on Jan. 16 during a hearing to discuss senior scams designed to defraud the elderly. At right is Derek Schmidt, Kansas attorney general. (Courtesy photo)