As he nears the end of a busy eight years as Washington State Attorney General, Rob McKenna is reminding families and policymakers to stay alert for threats to seniors.
“They looked out for us and we need to look out for them,” said McKenna, who this month was awarded AARP Washington’s Fraud Fighter Lifetime Achievement Award. “Many people in our state, and millions of Americans overall, look after older parents. But we should remember that many seniors are alone and isolated. Bad guys know that, too, making older adults vulnerable.”
McKenna’s office deals with thousands of complaints every year involving scammers targeting seniors, whom criminals see as richer than younger people and less able to defend themselves. Over the years, McKenna listened to those complaints and took action. In 2005 and 2008, his office used money from settlements with Western Union and MoneyGram – both accused of making it too easy for fraudsters to trick seniors and others into making non-refundable transfers – to fund AARP's "Fraud Fighter Call Center."
“Trained volunteer fraud fighters are reaching out to thousands of consumers offering the tips, resources and information they need to protect themselves from fraud and abuse,” said AARP Washington State Director Doug Shadel, when he presented the award to McKenna. “To date, our call center has contacted more than 500,000 people.”
As Attorney General, McKenna also fought hard and won new protections for vulnerable adults. In 2009, he went to the Legislature with a package of proposals to protect seniors from financial and physical exploitation. The cost of one part of the bill – creating new penalties for those convicted of targeting seniors – gave lawmakers pause. But McKenna came back in 2010 with a pared-down proposal. The Legislature passed the bill,SB 6202, allowing financial institutions to freeze a transaction for up to three business days if financial exploitation is suspected. It also requires health care providers, social workers and members of law enforcement to notify a medical examiner or coroner when they suspect that a death was caused by abuse, neglect or abandonment.
“Ultimately we will need tougher penalties for those who go after older adults,” says McKenna, pointing out that there’s more work to do. “As aging baby boomers become more vulnerable, criminals are finding a target-rich environment. That trend won’t let up anytime soon and neither should we.”
In the meantime, McKenna recommends that people talk with older family members and friends about the most common kinds of scams that target seniors. In particular, seniors should be warned to say no to door-to-door pitch-people and reminded not to send money with a wire transfer service without triple-checking that the person who called to request it is legitimate.
"They're usually scammers, not the family members or friends they pretend to be," said McKenna.