In the fight against financial exploitation of seniors, Colorado Attorney General Ken Salazar said the state needs better laws and must do a better job of enforcing them while also working to prevent elder fraud.
Salazar spoke to a crowd of more than 70 on Friday afternoon at the Steamboat Springs Community Center. The audience included community leaders, law enforcement officials, social services workers and seniors.
Relating stories of financial exploitation that have occurred to seniors across the state, including his own neighbor and his father, Salazar said an ounce of prevention is worth many pounds of cure.
"Once the fraud has occurred and law enforcement gets involved, and even when we capture the perpetrators, most of the victims won't be able to get their money back," Salazar said.
Seniors often are more vulnerable to scams and frauds than other members of a community, he said.
Salazar related stories of his father, who fell prey to organizations requesting donations for veterans, and an 80-year-old Burlington man who was conned out of almost $500,000 after being told he had won the Canadian lottery.
His neighbor, Salazar said, loaned money to several people: her real estate broker, an insurance agent and her granddaughter who was dating an ex-con. It was money she had been saving for years to set up an estate for her son, who has a disability.
"I don't know what to do. Almost everything I have been saving for, half already has disappeared," Salazar said the woman told him.
Salazar worked with the woman to manage her money and to learn to say no to people asking for loans. She now has about $250,000 in a trust fund and her 76-year-old son will be supported after she dies.
"It takes this kind of intervention to not allow the exploitation of seniors," Salazar said.
Salazar also advocated for better laws and better ways to enforce those laws. His office worked to bring the no-call list to Colorado, which decreases the number of telemarketing scams reaching seniors.
He said the state imposes an additional $10,000 penalty when the victim of a scam is a senior citizen and district attorneys are asked to impose the maximum end of sentences.
Colorado was part of a lawsuit against Publishers Clearing House that resulted in the sweepstakes company issuing a national apology and paying $30 million in restitution nationwide.
"We have gone after industries and companies that have targeted (seniors) in an unfair way," Salazar said.
A major reason for Salazar's visit to Steamboat was to discuss the ElderWatch Program, a joint project with the AARP intended to reduce the financial exploitation of seniors.
Routt County Sheriff John Warner said his department had made a commitment to the program. The sheriff's office views ElderWatch to be as important as the D.A.R.E program and used its D.A.R.E. officer, deputy Elise Andres, to initiate ElderWatch, Warner said.
Salazar praised the program the sheriff's office has in place.
"I hope (Andres') kind of efforts, her kind of leadership, is something that can be repeated in other counties," he said. "Helping out seniors really does a great service to our community. There is nothing worse than to have their dignity robbed of them in older years. That is about as criminal of a thing as could ever happen."
During a question-and-answer session, residents wavered from seniors' issues to quiz Salazar and Colorado Sen. Jack Taylor, R-Steamboat Springs, on two state ballot issues coming before the voters in November, Referendum A and Amendment 33.