RICHMOND — With bipartisan support, legislation headed toward approval in the General Assembly may help protect elderly residents and other vulnerable adults against financial exploitation by giving financial institutions more tools to help prevent this crime.
Both the House and Senate have passed versions of SB 1490, but the two chambers must resolve their differences over the measure. “This bill addresses the issue of financial exploitation of older Virginians, which has been on the rise in recent years,” said the sponsor, Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Rockingham.
Del. David Toscano, D-Charlottesville, is sponsoring HB 1987, the companion bill in the House. That measure was unanimously approved by the House last month and, in a slightly different version, by the Senate Rehabilitation and Social Services Committee on Friday.
“I think it’s important for people to pay close attention to elderly folks and how they may be financially exploited. We’re all getting older, there are more of us and we’ve got to watch out for each other,” said Toscano, the House minority leader.
“This bill helps encourage banking institutions to do that.”
Toscano’s and Obenshain’s proposals would give financial institutions the ability to “refuse to execute a transaction, delay a transaction, or refuse to disburse funds” if the institutions believe in “good faith” that the “transaction or disbursement may involve, facilitate, result in, or contribute to the financial exploitation of an adult.”
“What we’ve been finding is that sometimes, elderly people are exploited by their caregivers or some relative by taking them to the bank and removing cash from their accounts. Once the cash is removed, it’s hard to get it back,” Toscano said.
“So this gives lending institution some more teeth to make sure that they’re not giving away the money of folks who are being exploited and can essentially stop it before it happens.”
The legislation also would grant the financial institution’s staff immunity from civil or criminal liability for refusing to process transactions or for reporting suspicious financial activity as long as these actions are taken with due cause.
“Often the tellers at bank branches are in the last position to identify and stop these crimes, but too often they feel helpless because they cannot stop or delay suspicious transactions,” Obenshain said. “This bill will empower these bank employees to help protect vulnerable older Virginians.”
The financial exploitation of vulnerable adults is a widespread yet hidden problem.
The National Adult Protective Services Association identifies vulnerable adults as anyone who is “targeted due to age or disability, isolation, reliance on caregivers, or decreased physical or mental capacity.”
According to the association, 1 in 9 seniors has been “abused, neglected or exploited,” and 1 in 20 cases involves financial exploitation. About 90 percent of abusers are family members, caregivers or other individuals in a position of trust.
The Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitation Services reported 1,016 substantiated cases of financial exploitation in fiscal year 2015. But because most cases go unreported, the agency estimated there were more than 44,000 incidents of exploitation that year, costing elderly or incapacitated victims potentially more than $1.2 billion.
The average financial loss per victim was about $28,000, state officials found.
State lawmakers have been trying to address the problem since 2013, but legislation has failed in previous years. In 2016, for example, Del. Paul Krizek, D-Fairfax, introduced a bill nearly identical to HB 1987; it died in a House subcommittee.
Toscano is confident that the legislation will pass this year after House and Senate members iron out their relatively minor differences.
“I think that we will resolve the technical differences, and it will pass,” he said.