SEATTLE – Older adults who have spent a lifetime earning their savings are prime targets for abusers and crooks who deliberately prey on their generosity, friendliness or mental confusion, Attorney General Rob McKenna said.
McKenna turned the spotlight on elder abuse and fraud in conjunction with the first annual World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, June 15. He praised the work of state agencies, prosecutors, law enforcement and consumer advocacy groups working to fight elder abuse, neglect and fraud. At the same time, he urged Washington residents to report signs of abuse or manipulation when they occur.
“Police, social workers, prosecutors and advocacy groups are making a tremendous difference in the lives of senior citizens in our state,” he said. “But family, friends, neighbors, caregivers and even the bank teller are often the first line of defense. I encourage all Washington residents to report signs of abuse or financial exploitation.”
Efforts by the Attorney General’s Office to protect and assist Washington state senior citizens include:
REDUCING SENIOR FRAUD
Research by AARP shows that one in four Washington adults identify themselves as fraud victims. More than half of victims are people over 50.
“The Attorney General’s Office is fighting back with consumer education and enforcement,” McKenna said. “Cons who haven’t yet figured out their tricks won’t work in Washington will soon learn.”
The Vulnerable Consumers Protection Team brings cases against individuals and businesses that attempt to deceive consumers who are vulnerable because of age and cognitive limitations or economic, linguistic and cultural barriers. The team was created in fall 2005 within the Consumer Protection Division to help identify emerging threats. Attorneys recently settled a case with a former insurance agent accused of deceptively marketing in-home care services to seniors. As a result, approximately 35 people are expected to recover more than $500 each.
Consumer Protection Division staff reached out to more than 4,100 seniors between June 2005 and June 2006. Experts made a total of 55 presentations on identity theft, investment schemes, bogus sweepstakes and lotteries, fake charities, and other scams that target older adults.
Earlier this year, the office launched a new statewide “Cyber Safety” campaign with AARP, Microsoft, and the Federal Trade Commission. Thousands of seniors attended free half-day seminars to learn how to protect themselves against the latest online crimes, including phishing scams, viruses and spyware.
PRESERVING MEDICAID BENEFITS
The Medicaid Fraud Control Unit helps ensure the availability of Medicaid benefits for seniors by cracking down on those who would steal from the system. The unit recovered more than $9 million for Washington state last year through the investigation and prosecution of fraudulent providers.
In addition to state lawsuits and settlements, attorneys led a number of national investigations and prosecutions resulting in the return of hundreds of millions of dollars to state and District of Columbia Medicaid programs.
PROTECTING SENIORS FROM ABUSE
The Attorney General’s Office also protects elderly adults in Washington from abuse.
In addition to policing Medicaid program expenditures, the Medicaid Fraud Control Unit also investigates and prosecutes crimes of abuse and neglect committed against residents in facilities that receive Medicaid funding.
Attorneys in the Social and Health Services Division file Vulnerable Adult Protection Orders on behalf of consenting individuals and assist in appointing a guardian ad litem to represent an individual or estate.
FIGHTING UNFAIR PRESCRIPTION DRUG COSTS
“Skyrocketing health care costs hurt all of us but senior citizens are especially hard-hit because they often have to stretch fixed incomes to cover expensive prescription drugs,” McKenna said.
The Antitrust Division has returned more than $6.2 million since June 2004 to Washington patients, hospitals and state agencies through successful prosecution of drug manufacturers.
“These are not cases where companies tried to earn a reasonable profit for a new product,” McKenna said. “They were deliberate and illegal maneuvers by drug manufacturers who sought to enrich themselves at the expense of consumers suffering from cancer, heart disease, and other serious illnesses.”
To report abuse or neglect of a child or vulnerable adult, contact the Department of Social and Health Services at 1-866-EndHarm.
To report consumer fraud, contact the Consumer Protection Division at 1-800-551-4636 or file a consumer complaint online at www.atg.wa.gov.
To report Medicaid fraud, contact the Attorney General’s Office Medicaid Fraud Control Unit at (253) 593-2154 or (253) 593-2155. Or write: Office of the Attorney General Medicaid Fraud Control Unit, PO Box 2317 , Tacoma, WA 98401.
World Elder Abuse Awareness Day is a campaign sponsored by the International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse that aims to raise awareness and challenge attitudes that tolerate elder mistreatment. Supporters are encouraged to wear purple on June 15. For information, see www.inpea.net.
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Kristin Alexander, Public Information Officer, (206) 464-6432, firstname.lastname@example.org