CONCORD — Anyone who financially exploits the elderly, disabled or impaired could face up to 15 years in jail under a bill signed into law Thursday.
Supporters say financial exploitation is a growing problem in New Hampshire with its expanding elderly population, often leaving victims destitute or with greatly diminished assets.
“Fully including all Granite Staters in our communities means standing up for the most vulnerable among us,” said Gov. Maggie Hassan at a bill signing ceremony Thursday. “This common-sense, bipartisan legislation takes an important step toward confronting abuse of vulnerable victims by strengthening protection against financial exploitation for elderly, disabled and impaired adults”
She said protecting their rights and dignity is one of society’s most important responsibilities.
House Bill 1555 more clearly defines financial exploitation as abusing the trust or confidence of a person over 60 years old, disabled or impaired to gain access to their money or assets for the person’s own personal gain.
The penalties for financial exploitation range from a misdemeanor to a class A felony depending on the amount of money diverted for personal utilization.
Anyone convicted under the law would be required to restore the victim’s assets.
The bill’s prime sponsor, Rep. Katherine Rogers, D-Concord, said a recent study determined $2.9 billion was lost to elderly financial abuse in 2010.
“We are sending the word out today this abuse stops now,” Rogers said. “New Hampshire will not tolerate this abuse of the elderly.”
Bill supporters say the crime often goes unreported because the victim is embarrassed, a relative or a close friend.
Susan Staples of the Merrimack County Coordinated Community Response Team said it is important for state and local agencies to protect the rights of the elderly, disabled and impaired.
“New Hampshire has long-needed a criminal statute that clearly defines the act of financial exploitation,” Staples said at the bill signing ceremony. “No longer will the abuse of the elderly be dismissed as a family matter.”
Hassan noted those later in life have contributed to their communities and the state’s economy for many years and continue to do so as senior citizens.
“As their situation changes,” Hassan said, “they should have the same protections against abuse we all would want to have.”
Under the bill, both state and local law enforcement agencies would be able to investigate complaints.
The New Hampshire Bankers Association said the new law provides greater clarity for banks to report suspect transactions.
The new law goes into effect Jan. 1.