Elise Blasingame, Director of Community Education
Senior citizens are increasingly becoming victims of financial fraud and abuse. Georgia Watch supports protecting seniors by making needed improvements to existing law, including allowing fraud cases to be tried in the jurisdiction where the elderly victim resides and permitting the prosecution of criminal enterprises that prey on the elderly under the RICO statute. House Bill 72 was introduced to expand current protections for seniors, especially those that may prevent identity theft. HB 72 passed the General Assembly on the last day of the session (sine die) with great support from both the House and the Senate.
Here are the questions we had about what the bill means for consumers and care givers:
1) Will financial planners, advisors or banking professionals become mandated reporters of elder abuse? If so, how is this group defined and what must they do?
HB 72 mandates that any financial adviser or banking professional that manages accounts on behalf of a senior must now report suspected abuse of any kind. This provision will ensure that now anytime a financial advisor or banker suspects that family members may be taking advantage of a senior in their life, that it will get reported and investigated by the proper authorities. Protecting the safety of our seniors’ financial assets is a high priority and it will take a network of trained professionals to begin identifying red flags to reduce financial abuse against older adults in Georgia.
2) Will there by anonymity for those who report abuse in case the claim is false?
While the bill does not specify, the reporting structure should mirror the existing protocol for reporting that has existed for social workers, in-home caregivers and other providers who are designated mandated reporters. Any reporter who suspects abuse of any kind against an older adult must report the issue to both Adult Protective Services and the local authorities. They absolutely have the option to remain anonymous and will remain anonymous throughout the investigative process. If the charge results in a formal hearing, the reporter could be subpoenaed depending on the situation. The reporting employee will be granted immunity from any civil or criminal prosecution.
3) Will seniors be able to have their cases heard in their home districts instead of travelling to courts where the perpetrators of scams or identity theft live?
HB 72 specifies that any case involving the scam or identity theft of an older adult can be tried in the county where the victim lives. This removes a barrier for seniors who might have issues with mobility or do not have the financial reserves to afford travel to wherever the perpetrator committed the act. This provision rightly puts the burden on the thief or scammer to give the senior their day in court.
We applaud Chairman Wendell Willard (R-51) and Chairman Renee Unterman (R-45) for putting forward this important extension of rights for our aging adults, and the Georgia Council on Aging for ensuring the integrity of this bill as it passed through the General Assembly.