Assemblyman Lavine: Assembly Cracks Down on Criminals Who Target Elderly and Vulnerable

Increasing penalties for elderly assault and fraud will help protect our seniors
March 6, 2008

Glen Cove – Assemblyman Charles D. Lavine co-sponsored a comprehensive package of bills to protect New York’s seniors against assault, abuse and predatory financial practices. The initiatives punish abusers to better safeguard the vulnerable from criminals and con artists.

“Elder abuse is unconscionable, and we must take steps to stop the insidious violence,” Assemblyman Lavine said. “Additionally, we cannot tolerate predatory behavior against the frail and disabled or condone crimes of bias.”

Protecting seniors

The Assembly’s proposed plan will strengthen penalties for fraud and violence against seniors who generally are more vulnerable to injury. The package includes proposals to:

  • Increase the penalty from a class A misdemeanor to a class E felony if more than one vulnerable elderly person is victimized by a scam artist (A.9813);
  • Increase the penalty from a class A misdemeanor to second-degree assault – a class D violent felony – if a person 65 years or older is assaulted by someone more than 10 years younger, helping to curb predatory attacks by those who target seniors (A.9818);
  • Add an experienced elder law attorney to the state’s Crime Victims Board, providing valuable perspective for cases involving older New Yorkers (A.6204); and
  • Require the New York State Police to develop educational materials and procedures relating to elder abuse to help with their cases (A.9905).

Helping vulnerable New Yorkers

The legislative package also includes measures to help protect seniors’ assets and rights. These bills will allow those injured to sue, require a quick return of tenant deposits, safeguard the rights of individuals who place their trust in others under a power of attorney and curb ruthless actions by debt collectors. The measures will:

  • Give the injured party the right to sue for intentional damages to his/her property or for physical injury or death inflicted because of age, disability, race, color, national origin, ancestry, gender, religion or sexual orientation (A.866);
  • Protect rent security deposits of the elderly and other New Yorkers by requiring landlords to promptly repay and account for a tenant’s security deposit at the end of a tenancy; require landlords to itemize deductions against security deposits in writing for damages to an apartment; and set penalties if landlords ignore the law, thereby helping to halt the widespread and unwarranted practice of unduly withholding tenant security deposits (A.2114);
  • Rewrite New York’s power of attorney statute to ensure that agents for the elderly, the incapacitated and anyone who has given a power of attorney, are always answerable to that person, that this powerful tool in planning for incapacity is not used to cheat and defraud, and that prosecutors can effectively seek to punish those who criminally take advantage of others (A.6421-A); and
  • Prevent debt collectors from seizing Social Security, Social Security Disability, Supplemental Security and veterans’ benefits in bank accounts up to $2,500; give notice to debtors that such funds are exempt; and bar banks from charging their processing fees against those protected assets (A.8527).

In New York State, an estimated 30,000 seniors are victims of some kind of abuse or exploitation, a low estimate according to the National Center for the Elderly Abuse, which notes that only one in six elderly abuse cases are reported. Crimes can range from physical abuse – including sexual assault – to financial exploitation and emotional abuse.

“We need to keep our seniors safe and build a stronger firewall to help protect their assets,” Assemblyman Lavine said. “Cracking down on fraud and punishing those who assault the elderly and the less able in society will help curb this shameful, criminal behavior.”