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Federal law one step closer to curbing elder financial abuse

A couple months ago, a Fort Collins couple faced felony theft by exploitation accusations in South Dakota. The couple in their 60s allegedly stole funds from an elderly relative.

Unfortunately, this situation in one that is too common. Family members, caregivers and friends are frequently to blame. It is estimated that 5 million older Americans fall prey to abusive financial schemes each year. In our December post, we wrote about the Senior Safe Act and how it could curb these practices and offer greater protections to those most at risk. This post is an update on the progress of the legislation.

Two-fold motivation of lawmakers

Elected lawmakers have a duty to protect their constituents, especially the most vulnerable. And when an older person loses his or her money, Medicaid must step in to help cover medical and long-term care costs.

And elderly are prime targets, because they often still have land-lines and answer their phones. Scammers impersonating IRS agents have scared elderly people into paying back taxes they don't owe or unsuspectingly handing over personal information by clicking on a link to access a refund. Fake charity scams also go after older individuals taking advantage of their goodwill.

Because studies have found that seniors who speak with a trusted third party about finances are at a lower risk of falling victim to financial fraud, the proposed law puts financial advisers on the front lines. And in return for their help, financial professionals would not be liable for violations of privacy when necessary to alert law enforcement of potential fraud. In addition, the law envisions a training component (possibly standardized) for those who work in finance on how to better spot signs of elder financial abuse.

Moving toward the President's desk

First announced back in January 2017, the initiative is based on a collaborative Maine program. Senior$afe, the state program, has trained hundreds of financial services professionals across the state.

The Senate and House passed versions of the federal Senior Safe Act in mid-March. Now the bills are being reconciled and will go to the president for signature. While the proposed law will not completely stop elder financial abuse, it is a step in the right direction to get our seniors the tools they need to avoid becoming victims.

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