CEDAR RAPIDS — Legislation stepping up enforcement and increasing penalties for “criminals and con artists who prey on America’s senior citizens” is headed to President Donald Trump’s desk and Sen. Chuck Grassley is hoping he signs it “as soon as possible.”

Citing the case of a Cedar Rapids couple who spent more than $40,000 buying nutrition-related supplements of questionable value, Grassley said the legislation would increase penalties and improve coordination at the Justice Department and Federal Trade Commission.

“Exploiting and defrauding seniors is cowardly, and these crimes should be addressed as the reprehensible acts they are,” the 84-year-old Grassley said. Legislation the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman sponsored with Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., will send a “clear signal from Congress that combating elder abuse and exploitation should be a top priority for law enforcement.”

The Elder Abuse Prevention and Prosecution Act of 2017 passed the House of Representatives by voice vote earlier this week. It passed the Senate by voice vote in early August.

One of the challenges of protecting seniors from scams is that technology changes quickly and “criminals are constantly coming up with new scams,” Grassley said. “None of us are completely immune.”

Six million seniors fall victim to abuse and exploitation each year, Grassley said.

In 2014, Karl and the late Marlene Sibert of Cedar Rapids were among that number. They spent about $44,000 on nutritional supplements over 20 months for health and nutrition-related products when Marlene was hospitalized.

When their daughter, Karla Sibert of Palo, became aware of the spending, she contacted the Iowa Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division at an Iowa Fraud Fighters outreach event and filed a complaint. The investigation discovered telemarketers’ handwritten notes indicating Sibert’s mother had “memory” issues and her father had “dementia,” according to Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller.

In the Siberts’ case, the telemarketer complied with his office’s demand to repay every dime the couple had spent on the supplements.

But similar problems continue, Miller said Wednesday.

“They have new tricks, new schemes, but the principles remain the same,” often including repeat victimization, Miller said.

Although he sees the new federal law as helpful, Miller said his office relies on state law to combat elder exploitation.

Grassley called those who exploit seniors “cowardly” and said those crimes should be prosecuted “as the reprehensible acts they are.”

Although elder exploitation may not be a “prominent or popular issue,” Grassley said it’s “an important kitchen table issues for America’s seniors, families and caregivers.”

“Our legislation will enhance our nation’s response to these crimes and help families across America by equipping law enforcement, seniors and caregivers with additional training and tools to better deter crimes and hold perpetrators accountable.

For a summary of the legislation, visit https://www.judiciary.senate.gov/download/eappa-one-pager-sjc.

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