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The growing need to protect a growing senior population

The population of older, wealthier people continues to increase. That growth coincides with people looking to exploit the vulnerabilities that come with advanced age. Yet, financial exploitation continues to be overlooked and unreported. The problem is only getting worse with a national government lacking a formal system for complaints and much-needed interventions.

This treacherous form of abuse is a hot-button topic at state capitals throughout the country. In 2016, 33 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico debated legislation regarding the illegal or improper use of seniors’ assets and fraud that targets older people.

States with existing laws on the books have worked to fine tune those statutes. Those efforts included adding exploitation to the definition of vulnerable adult neglect and extending statutes of limitations for people accused of elder financial abuse.

Alabama added a level of protection to their existing laws by passing the Protection of Vulnerable Adults from Financial Exploitation Act. It requires investment advisors and brokers who suspect exploitation of a vulnerable adult to notify the Human Resources Department and the Alabama Securities Commission.

A “scorecard” by the National Conference of State Legislatures shows that approximately a dozen states do not define financial exploitation of older people as a specific crime. Cases are handled as ordinary thefts, akin to purse snatching.

Because of that, many prosecutors treat it as an internal family matter that does not require the so-called intrusion. Those who do pursue criminal cases must piece together evidence via a financial audit or competency evaluation.

The Justice Department has recently started training prosecutors nationwide to handle cases involving the abuse of older people. Because many older people who lack tech savvy still visit their banks, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has compiled tips for bank tellers to identify and prevent suspicious financial transactions.

Yet, until state and federal lawmakers enact stiffer penalties, the drain on savings, if not the well being of those 60 and over will continue. And without serious consequences.

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