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Trusting the Wrong People

Current Virginia laws are murky on financial exploitation


Victims fear reporting crime

Thomas Hafemeister, one of the University of Virginia professors who conducted the elder abuse study, said it's hard to get victims to report the crime for fear of losing the love of their child or the presence of a caregiver.

"That's the complicating factor: There's an emotional bond present," he said, adding that it's even more complicating when an adult has dementia.

Huberman added: "You're dealing with a victim at the time the theft is uncovered who might not be a source of information to you. It gives the suspect free rein to say whatever they want to say."

Michael Doucette, the commonwealth's attorney for Lynchburg and president of the Virginia Association of Commonwealth's Attorneys, which supports the proposed law, said the difficulty is establishing whether a situation is a family dispute or a crime.

Past bills have failed, said David DeBiasi, AARP Virginia advocacy director, over wording such as what constitutes a "vulnerable adult" or "undue influence" in persuading an adult to hand over money or assets.

For the first time, the legislature has referred the issue to the state Crime Commission to study other state laws on financial abuse of vulnerable adults and the consequences of those laws.

"We're working until we reach a consensus," said Del. Robert Bell (R-Albemarle County), commission chairman.

In the meantime, experts recommend looking for these red flags in an adult's affairs:

• Missing personal belongings or numerous unpaid bills.

• Frequent checks payable to "cash."

• Unusual bank activity or large withdrawals.

• An unexpected change of the person's will or power of attorney.

Friedenberg hired an attorney to demand the woman sign the condo deed back to her mother to avoid a lawsuit; the attorney also changed the will to remove the woman from the list of beneficiaries.

To report suspected abuse, call the state's 24-hour hotline at 888-832-3858 toll-free.

Jennifer Sergent is a writer living in Arlington, Va.

Also of interest:

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