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New law helps protect seniors from unscrupulous relatives

June 12, 2013
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The state will soon have more authority to protect older Hoosiers whose family members are taking advantage of them for financial gain.

The General Assembly has expanded a senior protection law to cover situations that don’t meet the definition of theft or fall under other fraud laws.

The law—pushed by Attorney General Greg Zoeller—is meant to help seniors fight back against more subtle manipulation that happens when a caregiver, friend or loved one uses intimidation—but not force—to gain access to money, credit cards or other resources.

It takes effect on July 1.

“It means Hoosier senior citizens are more thoroughly safeguarded from these fraudulent claims and that a lifetime of savings and investments remain secure,” said the bill’s author, Sen. Tim Lanane, D-Anderson.

Already, state agencies can investigate insurance or financial fraud involving companies, while the attorney general handles other consumer protection cases involving transactions.

But Deputy Attorney General David Miller told lawmakers earlier this year that there remains a gap in cases that typically involve family and caregivers, who might threaten to stop helping, visiting or caring for seniors who won’t help them financially.

“We’re basically in a position where unless we can see that there’s actually been a theft of assets, we’re helpless to do anything,” Miller said.

Groups advocating for seniors—including the AARP and the Area Agencies on Aging—backed the law. The Adult Protective Services Agency reported that in 2011, seniors were the victims in 1,300 cases involving financial exploitation.

The numbers increased 80 percent between 2001 and 2011.

And a national survey by the nonprofit Investor Protection Trust found that financial fraud committed by family members and caregivers outpace those by strangers.

“We have seen an uptick in the number of our members who are victims of financially-devastating frauds, scams and intimidation ploys,” said Katie Moreau, spokeswoman for AARP Indiana. “This is particularly detrimental to seniors who don’t have the time to rebound from financial setbacks.”

She said the group plans to alert its 850,000 members statewide about the new law.

The new Indiana law allows the attorney general to file a civil action against a person who financially exploits a senior and allows the court to freeze his or her assets, issue an injunction to protect the senior, and order repayment and additional restitution.

A court can also order $5,000 fines, which can increase to $10,000 if a judge finds the violation was committee by a person the senior trusted.

Seniors who feel victimized—whether by deception or intimidation or other means—can contact the attorney general’s office, Adult Protective Services or local Area Agencies on Aging.

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