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Laws Can Shield Seniors From Fraud
by Representative Tom Anderson


February 16, 2006

Elders in Alaska are to be valued. With their lifelong contributions they have great experience and wisdom to share. Whether remarkable or not, they are the parental figures of our community; they are the ones who fought for us and brought us to where we are in the world today. They ought to be cherished.

One way we can do that is to give them more protection in the law. Too often these days, seniors in Alaska are vulnerable to fraud and manipulation. Though living longer, they often live alone and without immediate family, thus, being easy targets for schemers. Our laws constantly need to be fine-tuned to address the protection of disabled and incapacitated seniors.

Alaskans report fraud at the second highest rate in the nation. This type of crime includes identity theft, credit card heisting and defrauding citizens of their assets. These crimes can hit senior citizens the hardest. The Anchorage Daily News recently reported about a couple from Chugiak who were indicted by a grand jury for bilking nearly $500,000 out of an elderly man, whom they were serving as legal guardians.

They were acting through the guardianship program of the state run by the Office of Public Advocacy. This office oversees approximately 2,500 guardians and conservators in Alaska, monitoring them annually. Many guardians are either family or friends, others are professional guardians, while still others are public guardians appointed by the state.

Josh Fink, director of the state Office of Public Advocacy, sees a lot of abuse of the elderly. He has heard of numerous cases of scams and identity theft in Alaska. He says that those who face the greatest difficulties of managing life, amidst rapidly changing technologies, are the aged.

The OPA now requires licensing standards for guardians and conservators. In 2001, when the Chugiak couple had been involved in their alleged deceptions, there was no licensing requirement for guardians. No specific set of qualifications was necessary at that time to certify guardians in Alaska. This gap in the law left wide open the possibility for shysters to abuse their role as guardians.

Since then, the Legislature closed the gap, enacting a law that requires guardians and conservators to fulfill clear licensing standards. That law, HB 427 which passed in 2004, addressed the need for regulatory enforcement of private professional guardians. Several organizations, including the Alaska State Association for Guardianship and Advocacy, the Senior Advocacy Coalition and the Long-term Care Ombudsman's office, helped me in drafting and moving that legislation. It is one more tool to help protect vulnerable and incapacitated adults to receive the care they deserve.

Another law now being discussed in Juneau is HB 132; it increases the penalties for crimes committed against the elderly. It adds weight to the criminality of actions perpetrated against our longest cherished citizens. For example, it will change a class-A misdemeanor into a class-C felony when that same violation is committed against a senior citizen. This is another way we as Alaskans can honor and protect our elders.

The population of older citizens in Alaska is growing rapidly, as are the crimes that affect them. The physical, emotional and financial harm of a crime against an elderly person can be devastating. We have every reason to consider increasing our protections for them in law.

About: Rep. Tom Anderson is a Republican state representative from East Anchorage. He has lived in Anchorage since 1967. Rep. Lesil McGuire is his wife.



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Ketchikan, Alaska