PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. (CBS12) — New historic legislation, backed by Republican state lawmakers and Attorney General Ashley Moody, criminalizes the exploitation and abuse of Florida's senior citizens.
Florida is home to nearly 5 million senior citizens. A vulnerable population that is oftentimes abused behind closed doors.
"One in 10 seniors will be abused according to some estimates, but only about 1 in 25 will ever be reported," said AG Moody.
Seniors are also the target of scammers looking to make a quick fortune off innocent elders.
In August 2020, detectives on the Treasure Coast warned of a scam where at least 5 senior citizens were conned out of nearly $170,000.
Scams targeting elderly are on the rise in the Treasure Coast
“These fraudsters are good at what they do, they can make web pages that look real," Martin County Sheriff William Snyder told CBS12 News. "They have storylines that tug at the person’s heart or frighten them. And so they can be very effective."
Most recently, scammers have been using the pandemic for financial gain.
A Delray Beach man used the identity of 7 residents of a senior living facility as part of a scheme to receive $1.5 million in PPP loans.
Delray Beach man accused of victimizing 8 senior citizens in COVID-19 relief fraud
Scammers are also using deceptive tactics claiming they can get senior citizens on the top of the vaccine list, in an effort to gain access to their personal and financial information.
Philip Ramirez, of Prominence Health Plan in West Palm Beach, tells CBS12 News his team warned clients about these scams.
"We did see a few incidents, especially at the beginning of the pandemic," Ramirez said.
But the days of profiting off vulnerable seniors in Florida are over under the new Senior Protection Law.
This bill really does a good job at bolstering our efforts to protect seniors and giving my office the ability to put those who target them behind bars.
The law criminalizes any attempt to exploit seniors by expanding the Attorney General's jurisdiction to include authority over crimes against elders and disabled adults. Under the new legislation, law enforcement and prosecutors can intervene before irreversible financial and physical harm is done.
"If you move here, if you retire here, if you come to Florida because you want to live out your golden years, we will make sure you can do that free from fraud and abuse," Moody said.
If a person is convicted under this new law they immediately forfeit any inheritances.