Committee on the Judiciary Approves Bill to Protect Seniors and Vulnerable Residents

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(Washington, DC) – Today, the Committee on the Judiciary voted B21-0326, the “Financial Exploitation of Vulnerable Adults and the Elderly Amendment Act of 2016,” affectionately known as the “Hilda Mason Act.” This bill aims to protect senior citizens in the District from financial exploitation, hold accountable those who take advantage of them, and allow the Attorney General and U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia to take quick, decisive steps to move forward with a civil or criminal action against the perpetrator.

Financial abuse of vulnerable populations, including our seniors, has been identified as a growing problem throughout the country. The Bureau of Justice Statistics found that nationally, 2.6 million people over the age of 65 had their identities stolen, 1.7 million had their credit cards misused, 800,00 had their bank accounts misused, and 200,000 had accounts opened in their names. A survey by the District of Columbia’s Collaborative Training and Response for Older Victims found that 14 percent of those surveyed reported financial abuse at the hands of family members.  Thirty-five states have enacted statutes criminalizing the financial exploitation of elderly or incapacitated persons. At least nine states have enacted laws defining undue influence in their criminal codes. The District of Columbia is not among either of these groups.

“Vulnerable citizens need to know the city is ready to protect them,” said McDuffie. “This is an important step in ensuring that financial security is not lost to theft.” Victims are often reluctant to come forward and report thefts to law enforcement. This bill gives the Attorney General the authority to ask the Court for restraining orders, injunctions, and freeze any accounts that funds are being stolen from.

Additionally, anyone who resorts to using “undue influence” can also be penalized under the legislation. Undue influence is described as someone who uses mental, emotional, or physical coercion that adversely affects the free will or judgment of a vulnerable adult or elderly person and causes them to act in a manner that is inconsistent with his or her financial, emotional, mental, or physical well-being.

The bill will come before the full Council for a vote in May.

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