Lawmakers want to do more to protect seniors against scams

01/09/2014 5:46 PM

08/08/2014 10:21 AM

The woman’s husband had died, and his obituary listed her as a survivor. Con artists quickly reached out to her.

They showed up at the 86-year-old woman’s home and told her it needed new lightning rods. By the time they were done, they’d helped himself to $106,000 of the woman’s money.

“Her nest egg was gone,” Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett said.

It’s almost always too late by the time local and state officials learn of financial abuse against the elderly.

That’s why Sen. Michael O’Donnell, R-Wichita, and Sen. Jeff King, R-Independence, are joining forces with allies including former Sedgwick County District Attorney Nola Foulston, a Democrat, to try to do more to help Kansas’ seniors. They announced Thursday at the Catholic Care Center that they will push to create the Nola Foulston Senior Citizen Protection Act during the upcoming legislative session.

In the lightning rod case, the men initially charged the woman $9,000, Bennett said. They went back again and again, charging her for “adjusting” the rods, always asking for thousands more. When the woman grew suspicious, the men told her that they were suing the manufacturer of the lightning rods and that she would eventually win a big settlement.

The only reason prosecutors ever learned about what was really going on was that one of the men told the woman he was Foulston’s nephew.

One day, she called Foulston’s office asking for information about the lawsuit against the manufacturer of the lightning rods. That’s when investigators uncovered the fraud.

The men were convicted of theft.

O’Donnell said financial crimes against the elderly hurt everyone. Protecting seniors crosses political lines, he said.

Foulston agreed.

“We need to help individuals at an age when it’s time for them to be taken care of,” she said.

Backed by Kansas Securities Commissioner Josh Ney and Attorney General Derek Schmidt, O’Donnell and King will push for a new law that will focus on financial crimes against people over age 60. Laws already punish people who physically abuse seniors, but it’s time to get something on the books to punish people who rob seniors of their nest eggs and retirement savings, O’Donnell said.

Ney said unfortunately there are “bad actors who prey on . . . seniors. . . as an easy payday.”

Part of the proposed law would add prison time to securities-related crimes when the victim is older than 60, Ney said.

King, vice president of the Kansas Senate, said financial scams targeting seniors happen every day in Kansas and undo years and decades of careful financial planning.

“The vast majority of the time, when the money’s gone, the money’s gone,” he said.

Schmidt said his office has worked to educate all Kansans about help that’s available through its website www.inyourcornerkansas.com. He said people, especially seniors, shouldn’t have to have law degrees to know how to get help.

The attorney general said his office also is working toward strengthening laws about Medicaid fraud in Kansas.

“We’ll do anything we can to shore up our laws and get word out to victims that help is available,” Bennett, the district attorney, said, noting that “the population isn’t growing any younger.”

O’Donnell did not have a draft of the proposed legislation, but he said he and King plan to introduce a bill this session. He said he expected Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau, D-Wichita, to co-sponsor the bill.

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