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AG targets physical, financial elder abuse

Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager today unveiled a comprehensive effort by the state Justice Department to defend Wisconsin 's senior citizens against physical and financial abuse.

Lautenschlager said she will assign one assistant attorney general to focus full time on "elder abuse in a general sense, particularly involving financial crimes against the elderly."

That work will include prosecuting consumer fraud, identity theft, forgery and fraud committed by financial institutions and family members who have powers of attorney, in addition to the agency's ongoing prosecution of physical abuse of the elderly and health care fraud.

And for the first time, the state will bring together law enforcement officials, prosecutors, social workers and financial institutions to establish an "anti-financial exploitation coordinating committee" to provide training, coordinate responses and address complicated cases on an ongoing basis.

Lautenschlager said the Justice Department is also trying to build links with senior advocacy groups, such as the Coalition of Wisconsin Aging Groups, the Center for Public Representation and the state branch of the American Association of Retired Persons.

She added that her agency has decided to target crimes against the elderly because they are one of the fastest growing areas of white-collar crime and because the elderly are one of the fastest growing sectors of the state's population.

Lautenschlager said she has made prosecuting crimes against the elderly one of her top priorities since taking office in January.

"We've really needed direction in the law enforcement arena and the prosecutorial arena to lend some guidance as to what can be done about these things," she said. "On the other hand, we've often dealt with things in a piecemeal way in the past."

For example, Lautenschlager said, identity theft is one of the state's fastest growing crimes, and senior citizens are often the victims. The same is also true for many consumer fraud cases, where the victims tend to be poor or elderly or both, she said.

While much of the Justice Department's focus has been on the Milwaukee area, Lautenschlager said the problem of elder abuse is statewide.

But she added that part of the problem is getting older adults to come forward with their concerns. "One of the issues out there is that older adults tend to be very fearful about making their problems public," she said. "As a result, we have learned that whether it's physical abuse or financial abuse, many times they never articulate the problems they face because they're afraid of what will happen. So many of the crimes go unreported."

Lautenschlager said she believes those problems may be especially acute in smaller, more tight-knit communities where there is a greater fear of embarrassment.

 


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