More than $49 million in losses has been reported in the United States, as result of scam calls related to COVID-19 with current legislation limits the authority the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) can take against alleged perpetrators.
The COVID-19 Regional Recovery Task Force seeks to change that through new legislation proposed by task force Co-Chairs Mikie Sherrill (D-NJ) and Peter King (R-NY). Called the COVID-19 Stop Calling Americans Maliciously (SCAM) Act (H.R. 7299), the bill will give the FTC the authority to seek civil penalties against those carrying out COVID-19 related calls or texting scams.
“Exploiting a time of national emergency for personal gain at the expense of our most vulnerable populations is abhorrent and more must be done to protect New Jerseyans and Americans across the country,” said Sherrill. “The Regional Recovery Task Force has heard from stakeholders on the threats posed by COVID-19 scam calls, how it erodes trust, and the negative impact it has on testing and contact tracing efforts.”
Expand FTC Authority
Currently, the FTC must first file an injunction, and can only seek civil penalties if the injunction is violated.
The COVID-19 SCAM Act is led by Sherrill and King, along with Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE), Elise Stefanik (R-NY), and Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY) as well as Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ).
The legislation was born after a May meeting the task force had with Kelly Driscoll, a member of the Massachusetts COVID-19 Command Center. Driscoll spoke to the group about how these scammers are targeting vulnerable populations, including seniors. The scams may include attempted financial exploitation and misinformation about vaccines, among other things.
Protecting the Vulnerable
“It is outrageous when scammers and other bad actors seek to economically harm our most vulnerable communities during this pandemic,” said Fitzpatrick. “These scammers are the worst of the worst. The COVID-19 SCAM Act would give the FTC the power to go after scam callers and their operations immediately and provide relief and security to seniors, consumers, and other vulnerable populations across the country.
The creation of the COVID-19 Regional Recovery Task Force was announced in April, with the goal of creating bipartisan policy proposals and recommendations to help Americans return to work and prevent another COVID-19 outbreak.
“Representative King and I are forming this working group to look ahead and propose meaningful actions to chart a way forward in these uncertain times,” said Sherrill. “Representative King has been a tireless fighter for priorities in our region and I look forward to working with him on this important initiative.”
Bipartisan Task Force
In addition to Sherrill, King, Fitzpatrick, Blunt Rochester, Stefanik, and Maloney, the other task force members are Representatives Jim Himes (D-CT), Dan Meuser (R-PA), and Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ).
Among the topics that the task force has set out to tackle include increasing the access to virus and antibody tests, developing a plan for efficient contact tracing, addressing fears around returning to public spaces and preventing subsequent waves of an outbreak.
King spoke about how the task force will support the move to continue to reopen the country.
“The coronavirus pandemic has revealed dangerous deficiencies in our health defense systems. We must find ways to significantly improve those defenses going forward while taking safe and effective measures to reopen our country,” said King.