Opinion

Washington's older residents deserve more protection

Once a thriving 89 year-old with $2 million in assets, Francis Taylor is now bankrupt.

According to Seattle Times reporter Susan Kelleher in her 2007 award-winning investigative series, “The Fleecing of Francis Taylor,” Francis owned only one credit card and had willed her assets to her church.

That was before she hired Tyrone Dash to look after her finances.

Many sub-prime mortgages and high-interest loans later, Dash had crushed her nest egg by mortgaging her house, accessing her credit lines and by becoming her sole beneficiary.

Ms. Taylor’s banks sometimes questioned her transactions and notified her of suspicious spending. One bank put a hold on her account due to the pace of her spending.

Each time, Dash confronted the banks and managed to reassert his financial authority.

Francis Taylor’s story underscores a growing problem — the growing level of abuse and financial exploitation of older Americans.

On Jan. 1, 2006, baby boomers began turning 60 at the rate of one every 7.5 seconds. At this rate, more than 11,000 people a day become potential victims for those who prey on the vulnerable. Due to this demographic shift, the Attorney

General’s Consumer Protection Division and Medicaid Fraud Control Unit, as well as law enforcement agencies across the state have seen a steady

increase in the frequency with which fraud-related cases involve the exploitation or abuse of older adults.

In response to this growing problem, the Attorney General’s Office created the Vulnerable Adult Initiative in June of 2007. Representatives of financial institutions, victim advocates and members of law enforcement agencies came together to propose protections for seniors and those with disabilities.

Based on their recommendations, we’ve introduced legislation to better protect those who can’t protect themselves.

If passed into law, our legislation will require employees of financial institutions to receive training to recognize and report financial exploitation, and strengthens their ability to “freeze” an account if thievery is suspected.

The bill also strengthens penalties for people who prey on vulnerable adults, and allows the public to have access to a database of information about those who have committed abuse.

This will better allow for informed decisions when choosing a caretaker for our loved ones.

As our population ages, the already large number of vulnerable adults continues to grow.

Our parents, siblings, and even our adult children may soon become susceptible to these crimes.

We’ve listened carefully to those who have witnessed the fleecing of our aging population.

They have seen what predators can do, and what they will continue to do without stronger penalties and bigger roadblocks.

So today we’re asking for the Legislature’s support of our work to ensure that susceptible members of our population get the protections they deserve.

Rob McKenna is Washington State’s Attorney General. Sen. Dale Brandland, R-Bellingham, and Rep. Barbara Bailey, R-Oak Harbor, are sponsors of the vulnerable adult legislation.

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