Column: Taking advantage of seniors is a serious problem

Q: How serious is financial exploitation of older citizens in society? A: Financial scams targeting the elderly have been referred to as the "crime of the 21st century," but what we've uncovered so far may just be the tip of the iceberg. That's w...

Q: How serious is financial exploitation of older citizens in society?

A: Financial scams targeting the elderly have been referred to as the “crime of the 21st century,” but what we’ve uncovered so far may just be the tip of the iceberg. That’s why I’m working on a solution.

In addition to cracking down on financial fraud, we need to get a better grip on the scope of issues of neglect and mistreatment, including elderly abuse on social media. As chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, I conducted a congressional hearing this year to examine the various cases of fraud and scams that can wipe out a victim’s life savings. And I’ve sent oversight letters about abusers who steal a victim’s dignity with an invasive post on social media.

Make no mistake. It can happen to a friend, neighbor or loved one. We need all stakeholders at the table to identify solutions and to help build public awareness so that individuals, caregivers, family members and law enforcement are all on board to prevent this from happening in the first place. For the perpetrators who commit the crimes, we need to make sure appropriate penalties are on the books and proper enforcement of the laws are carried out to bring justice to those who prey on innocent seniors. The U.S. Justice Department estimates that six million Americans age 60 and older fall victim to abuse or exploitation every year. The financial toll is at least $2.9 billion and in reality, it’s probably much higher. What’s even more alarming, half of all dementia patients will experience some form of abuse or neglect, and elderly victims of abuse are three times more likely to die earlier than their peers who are not abused.

In other words, making sure public policy is in place to fight financial crimes and exploitation against seniors is a matter of life and death.


Q: What will your legislation do to prevent these crimes?

A: My bipartisan Elder Abuse Prevention and Prosecution Actwould equip law enforcement with additional tools to combat crimes against our nation's senior citizens. It would ensure that more data is collected to inform the federal government's response to all forms of elder abuse and exploitation. It calls for enhanced training for federal investigators and prosecutors, and it would e‎nsure that each judicial district has at least one prosecutor who is tasked with handling cases of elder abuse.

In states like Iowa, with a large share of seniors and nursing home residents, such changes are needed to ensure that financial crimes against the elderly don’t pay. The bill would require the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection to appoint an elder justice coordinator, giving states and victims a visible point-of-contact in the federal government. Finally, the bill would add stronger criminal and civil penalties for those convicted of defrauding seniors to send a strong message to other would-be fraudsters.

Better information sharing, better enforcement and better public awareness will make society a better, safer place for our loved ones who deserve to be treated with dignity after a lifetime of service to their families and communities. The Senate Judiciary Committee in September passed the bill without objection. The next steps, before the president can sign the measure, are for the full Senate and House of Representatives to pass this legislation.

Grassley’s bill was endorsed by the 3,000-member Elder Justice Coalition, which called it “one of the most comprehensive and meaningful bills ever developed to address the rapidly increasing problem of elder financial abuse in America.” It also has the support of the Alzheimer’s Association, the National District Attorneys Association, Consumers Union, SIFMA, the 60 Plus Association, Leading Age,the National Center for Victims of Crime,and the Conference of Chief Justices and Conference of State Court Administrators.

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