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Gillibrand Unveils Bill To Protect Senior Citizens From Financial Scams

WYANDANCH, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) -- New proposed legislation designed to better protect senior citizens from financial scams was unveiled on Long Island Monday.

As CBS2's Tony Aiello reported, senior fraud crimes are on the rise – costing millions of elderly Americans their savings and their sense of wellbeing.

Now. U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) wants a centralized federal agency to crack down on the scammers, many of whom are operating from overseas.

Barbara Mical, 78, loves nothing more than a few rounds of bingo with her neighbors at the Wyandanch Senior Center. Six months ago, someone played games with her – a phone call that sounded legitimate.

"They said, we're calling you because you got the IRS and you owe them $5,000," said Mical, of Deer Park. "I wasn't thinking/"

The caller ordered Mical to withdraw the money from her local bank immediately.

"I got hysterical and started crying," she said.

Fortunately for Mical, a bank teller aware of the scams warned the scammer away.

"A scammer might call you on the phone and say it's your grandchild, who says: 'Grandpa, hi, it's Timmy! I've just had a terrible accident! Can you send me some money right away?'" Gillibrand said.

Gillibrand said more than $16 million have been scammed from seniors in Suffolk County in the last year or so. She is sponsoring legislation to provide more information to seniors and caregivers and to better coordinate federal efforts.

"The bill would take all the various scattered resources out there for seniors to report fraud and put those resources in one place," Gillibrand said.

Gillibrand said more than 40 percent of senior victims do not report being scammed – even to their own families.

"They're ashamed -- ashamed and embarrassed -- so it's hard to measure the extent of the fraud," said Harry Ballan of the Touro Law Center, "but we have reason to believe it's extensive."

Mical said her advice is simple.

"Watch when you answer the phone," she said. "Don't give out any information, and when they ask you your name, say, 'No -- what's your name?'"

Versions of the bill have been bouncing around Congress since 2012. Gillibrand hopes this is the year lawmakers act.

Last year, more than 20,000 New York seniors reported they had been the victim of a financial scam.

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