Alarmed by statistics showing that an estimated five million elders are victims of abuse in America each year and that older victims lose an estimated $3 billion per year to financial exploitation, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved bipartisan legislation Sept. 15 to enhance federal efforts to prevent and redress elder abuse.
S. 3270, the Elder Abuse Prevention and Prosecution Act, includes provisions to:
• direct the U.S. attorney general to designate at least one federal prosecutor in each U.S. attorney’s office to serve as an elder justice coordinator for that district;
• require both the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to establish an elder justice coordinator;
• require DOJ to partner with the Department of Health and Human Services to provide training and technical assistance to state and local governments for investigating, preventing, prosecuting and remedying elder abuse;
• ensure collection of important data about cases and victims; and
• support efforts to improve guardianship proceedings and detect and redress abuse by guardians.
In a Sept. 14 letter urging the committee to approve S. 3270, ABA Governmental Affairs Director Thomas M. Susman emphasized that elder abuse − which encompasses physical and sexual abuse, neglect, and financial exploitation − is a problem that is not defined by socio-economic, racial or ethnic status and occurs at alarming rates in every state.
“Updated resources are constantly needed to combat new ways of abusing older persons,” he wrote. “S. 3270, designed to create a federal infrastructure and support for efforts to better understand, prevent, and combat elder abuse, constitutes a sound investment in the health, dignity, and economic future of our nation.”
The ABA has supported the goals of the legislation for decades and worked toward the enactment of the Elder Justice Act in 2010. The ABA also is involved in numerous efforts to prevent elder abuse through the work of its Commission on Law and Aging.
During a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in June, bill sponsor and committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) described an array of schemes and scams targeting seniors: grandparent scams, where individuals present themselves to a senior as a grandchild in distress who immediately needs cash or a credit card number; sweetheart scams, where a romantic relationship is cultivated with a lonely elder to convince the senior to give an individual money; and scams involving sweepstakes and the lottery, government impersonation, and tech support.
John Horn, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Georgia, provided details of the Justice Department’s efforts toward combating elder abuse, including an Elder Justice Working Group recently created by the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee and the Elder Justice Website (www.usdoj.gov/elderjustice) established in September 2014 that provides resources for identifying, reporting and prosecuting elder abuse and financial exploitation.
Other federal resources were highlighted by Lois Greisman, associate director of the Division of Marketing Practices in the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, which conducts education and outreach programs and runs the Pass It On website providing information on specific imposter scams.