April 14, 2012

Humphrey Leading Office of Older Americans

by Levin & Perconti

The Star Tribune recently published a story on the head of a new government agency which seeks to target the fiscal well-being of seniors across the country. Hubert Humphrey III—a former legislator, attorney general, and son of the former Vice President—has been named the head of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s Office of Older Americans. The small office was created as part of the large financial industry overhaul in the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. The legislation charges the group with safeguarding the rights of all Americans over the age of 62. Our Illinois elder abuse attorneys appreciate that, particularly in the financial context, various scams and disingenuous tactics are used to take advantage of certain members of the older population.

For example, according to a MetLife study, in 2010 seniors lost almost $3 billion as a direct result of financial exploitation. That is why tackling senior financial exploitation is one of the missions at the heart of the new office. Humphrey noted that a large part of the problem is identifying the abuse, because in many cases it occurs in subtle ways, often by friends or family members.

Each Chicago elder abuse lawyer at our firm knows that beyond the basic revulsion at taking advantage of this vulnerable population, this financial abuse often hurts those who do not have much to begin with. A 2007 study found that three out of every five families that were headed by a senior citizen had literally no money saved for retirement. Those few who do have some money put away often then have it swindled away in a range of unscrupulous ways. The consequences are severe because market dynamics have skewered many retirement savings anyway. And with rising medical costs, the savings are generally not going as far as they have in the past.

Family members and friends are often the one’s perpetrating the abuse. Humphrey explains how it often happens. A family member may feel that they are owed a new car because of the work that they do bringing the senior to appointments and other errands. Then, the one-time purchase becomes a habit and seniors have their retirement savings dipped into again and again by friends or family members who get accustomed to taking the funds for their own needs. Sometimes they are never caught. Even when they are caught, there is often little that can be done to help the senior recoup the money that was lost.

This elder abuse must be tackled. Doing so requires action on two fronts: educating seniors about the dangers and putting steps in place for observers to find abusers and hold them accountable. Recognizing the important role that education plays in the effort, Humphrey said that he intends “to make it the Office of Older, Smarter Americans.” In addition, the group is pushing for stronger penalties and more expansive enforcement of current laws that hold those caught accountable. By sending the message that these actions will not be tolerated, the agency is planning on stopping some abusers from acting beforehand.

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