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Editorial: Nebraska must take new strides to protect financially vulnerable seniors
Against Scams

Editorial: Nebraska must take new strides to protect financially vulnerable seniors

Nebraska in recent years has begun to focus important attention on safeguarding elderly residents vulnerable to financial exploitation. The state in 2014 created public guardians, under the Nebraska court system, who help seniors with financial management. Last year the Legislature empowered Nebraska financial institutions to notify a caretaker or other third party about suspected financial exploitation of vulnerable seniors.

This year, Nebraska lawmakers have given first-round approval to a similar proposal allowing investment advisers and brokers to put a hold on transactions they suspect may involve the scamming of an elderly individual.

State officials must decide carefully in enabling government power to restrict a senior’s ability to move his or her own money. But the magnitude of financial abuse has crossed a troubling threshold, spurring wide consensus that protective action is needed.

The need is real. An estimated one in five Americans older than 65 has been exploited financially, according to Jina Ragland of AARP Nebraska. The average loss: an estimated $125,000.

Over the past two years, about a quarter of reports of elder abuse to the state have involved financial exploitation, according to the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services.

“This is not a hypothetical situation,” Theresa Heye, speaking on behalf of the Nebraska Independent Community Bankers Association, told a legislative committee last year. “This has been a reoccurring problem.”

Momentum for progress on this issue has been building for years. In 2010, a World-Herald investigation examined concerns in the handling of more than 12,000 incapacitated Nebraskans who rely on guardians, conservators or both. One high-profile case involved a court-appointed guardian-conservator in Omaha who was convicted of stealing more than $400,000 from eight of her wards.

In 2013, the State Auditor’s Office found ongoing problems in regard to protection of vulnerable seniors, and the Legislature responded by creating a set of public guardians to provide such support. This year, the State Office of Public Guardian had more than 100 wards in 40 assisted-living centers, nursing homes and group homes across Nebraska.

There is a waiting list for the services, and the demand for the services is likely to grow in coming years. The state’s population aged 65 and older has increased from 246,000 in 2010 to 324,000 now, heading toward 418,000 by 2030.

The current proposal on this issue at the State Capitol is Legislative Bill 297 by State Sen. Brett Lindstrom of Omaha. Under the measure, broker-dealers and investment advisers would be required to notify the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Adult Protective Services and the State Department of Banking and Finance within two business days in order to delay a transaction and conduct an internal review.

The measure is in line with bills or statutes in at least 28 other states. At a recent committee hearing, Lindstrom’s bills received supportive testimony from the State HHS and Banking Department as well as AARP Nebraska and the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors. No one spoke in opposition.

The state’s heightened focus on this issue is welcome. As Nebraska’s population ages, the state must remain attentive to safeguarding the vulnerable.

The need is real. An estimated one

in five Americans over age 65

has been exploited financially.

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