June 25, 2022

Older Iowans financially protected with new law

“People that perpetuate crimes on older Iowans, especially financial scams, do it because it’s easy for them,” said Kelly Butts-Elston, the executive director of Connections Area Agency on Aging. “Older Iowans are perceived to be easy marks.”

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a bill Wednesday at the Highland Ridge Senior Living Community center in Williamsburg that makes elder abuse a crime in Iowa. The bill passed unanimously in both Iowa legislature chambers during the 2022 session.

While Iowa had already criminalized the abuse of dependent adults by their caretakers, this left no room for the abuse of independent adults or abuse by someone other than a caretaker. It also didn’t include protections against the financial exploitation of elder Iowans. According to the AARP of Iowa, the most reported form of elder abuse is financial exploitation.

“This is something we’ve been advocating for for years,” Butts-Elston said. “We are really excited about Gov. Reynolds signing this.”

Consumer Affairs reports financial crimes of the elderly are on the rise. They say older people are swindled out of more than $3 billion each year. Seniors targeted by fraudsters suffer an average loss of $34,200. “They’re trusting,” Butts-Elston said. “They grew up in a time where a handshake meant your word.”

Before this law, the process of charging someone of elder abuse was much more complicated. “A lot of times when older Iowans have been financially exploited, it was a family member or someone close to them,” Butts-Elston said. “You would have to go through the motion of filing the charge, and they didn’t want to do that.”

Butts-Elston said there’s one case in particular that will haunt her through her career. The case happened 10 years ago in Council Bluffs and involved a recently widowed gentleman. After bumping into a younger woman that used to be his neighbor, he informed her of his wife’s passing and that she had left him $850,000.

“In a matter of weeks, she was his fiance, obtained a truck, he bought her a house in Omaha, another car, a gym membership and a $6,000-$7,000 ring,” Butts-Elston said. “We were helpless to do anything unless he wanted to press charges.”

At that time, when she talked to a local attorney, she was told there were no teeth in the elder abuse laws. “We couldn’t do anything,” she said. Gov. Reynolds’ law could have allowed the state to press charges had it been in place at the time.

“He ended up passing away alone in a nursing home,” Butts-Elston said. “It was very frustrating.”

The Connections Area Agency on Aging want people to know they are a resource for all things age-related. “We are a one stop shop for any information, resources or assistance,” she said.

Butts-Elston said their greatest challenge lies in awareness. She said people don’t want to think about planning for their retirement or planning for what they want to do if they need assistance or can’t live independently. “A lot of people don’t know about us until they are in a state of crisis,” she said. “We try to reach them before they are in crisis mode so they know where to turn for a resource.”

From 11 a.m. - 1:30 p.m., Thursday, June 30, the Connections Area Agency on Aging will be hosting a presentation on financial information for women at the Food Pantry Events Center in Creston. At the end of the presentation, there will be a section on elder abuse. They also have a consumer protection workshop on July 13 that will cover scam protection.

“We want to remove the risk of abuse for elders,” Butts-Elston said. “If you see something; if a neighbor is exhibiting strange signs or their papers are piling up, give us a call.”

Cheyenne Roche

CHEYENNE ROCHE

Originally from Wisconsin, Cheyenne has a journalism and political science degree from UW-Eau Claire and a passion for reading and learning. She lives in Creston with her husband and their two little dogs.