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Elders' gold
Protecting the elderly from financial abuse is the goal

Date published: 2/10/2013

AMERICANS' life expectancy is somewhere around 78 years. Thanks to good nutrition and medical care, our bodies are lasting longer--sometimes well beyond the capacity of the mind to stay mentally sharp and safe in a complex world.

This reality makes the elderly--and those with any kind of mental incapacitation--susceptible to financial abuse. According to the National Committee on the Prevention of Elder Abuse, this can range from simply taking a person's money or property to con games in which deception is used to trick someone out of his or her money.

Anyone who has ever cared about an older person knows how vulnerable they are. Managing money is more complicated these days. Accesses to human "soft targets" have multiplied. It's no longer a knock on the door of which one need be wary; it's the phone call or the Internet or the text message. Perpetrators can range from those near and dear--the caregiver or family member who yields to temptation--to scam artists in a faraway land.

A bill by state Sen. Richard Stuart, R-Montross, would make taking financial advantage of anyone who is mentally incapacitated prosecutable as a larceny. Carefully worded to avoid criminalizing well-meaning friends and kin, the bill has passed the Senate. A similar bill is wending through the House.

The Virginia State Police estimate that 1,000 Virginians over age 70 are financially abused each year. By some estimates, people older than 50 control 70 percent of the nation's wealth, making folks in the older age brackets prime targets for crooks. Let's give the vulnerable more protection.