Supporting bills against exploitation

Published 9:51 pm Friday, February 15, 2019

A couple of bills in the General Assembly this year would help protect senior citizens in Virginia from financial exploitation, and that is something that is so important.

I’ve been blessed enough to still have both of my grandmothers with us, even at the ages of 93 and almost 90. But that also means that I’ve seen how easy it can be for seniors to be financially exploited, both by family members and by complete strangers.

A stranger once tried pulling the old “grandchild in trouble” trick on my paternal grandmother. A young-sounding man once called her and said “This is your grandson,” and then breathlessly launched into a story about some kind of trouble he’d gotten into and requested money.

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Unfortunately for the scammer, my dad was an only child, and so am I. He may have reached one of the few 80-somethings without one single grandson. My grandmother informed the scammer as such and hung up. But what about the elderly people who had numerous children, who then had numerous children? Some folks have dozens of grandchildren and may have trouble keeping track of all of their comings and goings, which would make most stories about needing money more believable.

I worked at Food Lion as a teen, and my boss at the time still works there. She proudly keeps track of — and posts on Facebook — the times she has saved older people from falling victim to scams involving wiring money, simply by asking customers who come to use the Western Union service a few questions.

Those phone scams are just one of the ways that an older person could be exploited financially. There are myriad ways it can happen, and sometimes the perpetrator is not some stranger on the phone but someone the older person should be able to trust.

Of course, stealing or coercing money from anyone of any age is illegal and morally wrong, but it is especially heinous when it happens to seniors, who are on fixed incomes and worked all of their lives to gain the assets and resources they have. To have them stolen in an instant by someone just looking to make a quick buck is especially reprehensible.

The legislation in the General Assembly this year, which appears close to becoming law, would give banks and credit unions the ability to refuse or delay transactions if they believe the transactions might contribute to the financial exploitation of an adult.

Often, caregivers or family members will take the elderly people to the bank and have them withdraw cash to give them or might even weasel their name onto the account so that they don’t have to have the elderly person with them. Senior citizens who may feel they have nobody else to reach out to or feel that they are physically dependent on the person who’s exploiting them would be especially vulnerable.

“This bill will empower these bank employees to help protect vulnerable older Virginians,” said Sen. Mark Obenshain, a Republican from Rockingham who’s sponsoring one of the bills in the General Assembly. Delegate David Toscano, a Charlottesville Democrat, is sponsoring the companion bill. (It’s good to see bipartisanship still exists on some issues, isn’t it?)

I hope these bills are able to become law so that senior citizens in Virginia can be protected from unscrupulous individuals who see nothing but a meal ticket.