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January 24, 2012

New Law Toughens Penalties for Senior Fraud (IL. USA)

New law toughens penalties for senior fraud
BY ALI DURKIN
JAN 19, 2012

A new Illinois law that takes effect this month imposes harsher penalties on people who defraud seniors, and makes it easier to go after low-level fraud.

The law allows prosecutors to go after scammers who steal smaller amounts of money than before, beginning with frauds for as little as $5,000.

The intention behind the legislation was twofold, “to increase penalties based on the lower threshold and, especially with all the attention, to serve as a deterrent,” said Ryan Gruenenfelder, associate state director of Advocacy and Outreach at AARP Illinois.

Each year nationwide, victims lose more than $2.6 billion to financial exploitation, according to AARP.

Scams against seniors sometimes come from an outside source through the mail or Internet. Yet, more common are scams committed by family members or caregivers, said Robert Blancato, national coordinator of the Elder Justice Coalition in Washington, D.C.

The law reflects Illinois’ recent effort to take senior financial exploitation more seriously, Gruenenfelder said.

“Illinois has been taking steps in the right direction to recognize elder abuse and give tools to officials, law enforcement, and state’s attorneys to go after those who commit it,” he said.

Professionals in Illinois who work with elders must report abuse if they see it. Nonetheless, elder abuse often goes unreported, Gruenenfelder said. According to estimates from the Illinois Department on Aging, only one in 13 cases of elder abuse are reported, he said.

If a senior is defrauded by a family member, he or she may not report it to avoid getting their family in trouble, Blancato said. Similarly, the senior is often a dependent of the perpetrator. In those cases, “there is a fear factor that keeps them from reporting,” he said.

Also a senior may not know where to report these crimes. Finally, underfunded agencies have too many cases to work, “that leads to stuff falling through the crack,” Blancato said.

Illinois does have institutions to deter elder financial exploitation, such as the TRIAD Program, a statewide organization of law enforcement officials, sheriffs and senior advocates that works to prevent and educate citizens about these crimes. However, more can be done, Gruenenfelder said.

“A public awareness campaign to educate people on how to avoid being victimized” and education of society as a whole of the seriousness of these crimes are necessary to eliminate these crimes, Blancato said.

Law enforcement also needs to be educated on the problem, Gruenenfelder said.

“I believe that police officers certainly could use more education and training to help recognize elder abuse and know that when someone comes to them that it is a criminal matter,” he said.

“We have to get past the notion that we should treat elder abuse like something other than a crime,” Blancato said.


SOURCE:     MedIll Reports, Chicago
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