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Empower Yourself to Fight Vulnerable Adult Abuse

mature man in deep thought

— Reza Estakhrian/Getty Images

In seniors, many criminals think they’ve found the ultimate target.

Case in point: two identity thieves were recently busted in Bellevue. One member of the duo is alleged to have taken $12,500 from his own, Alzheimer’s-suffering mother. Police say she was among at least 16 individuals who were victimized by the pair.

Why do thieves like these gravitate to seniors? Older people aren’t always aware of the latest schemes, some of which use new technology. Seniors often live alone, where loneliness leaves them at risk of falling prey to conniving relatives or “new friends” with hidden motives. Crooks know that thanks to a lifetime of work and thrift, retirees may possess significant savings. And because they’re more likely than younger people to be incapacitated, seniors can’t always call for help.

My office has worked for years to find new ways to protect vulnerable adults, and now is a good time to learn about new legal protections and what you can do to protect the older people in your life.

Earlier this year, the Washington State Legislature passed a bill to provide training and tools to those who mind seniors’ bank accounts. I’m grateful that Peggy Quan of AARP Washington was among those who testified in favor of the legislation. The new law requires that bank employees receive training to identify and prevent the financial exploitation of vulnerable adults. It also allows these employees to act on what they’ve learned, freezing an account for a few days if economic exploitation of a vulnerable adult is suspected. In effect, bank tellers will be empowered to protect their vulnerable customers by calling a “time out” to contact law enforcement before more harm is done.

Another unfortunate event in the news touches on a new reform included in new legislation. In July, a Black Diamond man was sentenced to prison for allowing his 88-year-old mother to die from horrific neglect. Law enforcement did a great job bringing him to justice. But many other cases of abuse and neglect are never identified, meaning some deaths aren’t prosecuted as crimes. That’s why our bill requires “mandated reporters,” which include Adult Protective Services employees, social workers, adult care facility workers and others, to report any suspicious death of a vulnerable adult to medical examiners and law enforcement.

In the last two legislative sessions, we also proposed strengthened sentences for those who commit serious crimes against vulnerable adults. But due to the recession and depleted state coffers, this proposal was not adopted by lawmakers. We intend to try again when the economy recovers.

You can do much to help combat the abuse or exploitation of seniors. First, it’s important to recognize the signs of exploitation. These, according to the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS), can include unexplained withdrawals of large amounts of money, adding additional names on bank accounts, abrupt changes in a will or other financial documents, the unexplained disappearance of funds or valuable possessions, sudden transfers of property or the appearance of previously uninvolved relatives claiming rights to a vulnerable adult’s possessions.

Any individual example above might be innocent. But use your best judgment. You, as a good friend or relative, are in a good position to know if something suspicious might be going on.

If you suspect possible physical abuse, neglect or financial exploitation, call 911 and DSHS at 1-866-ENDHARM (1-866-363-4276). You can learn more at the Aging and Disability Services Administration website.

Other Resources

Aging and Disability Services Administration

Washington State Attorney General’s Office

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