Two bills that aim to punish those who swindle or scam senior citizens passed a California State Assembly Public Safety Committee on April 22.

One bill, AB 1131, authored by Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-35) broadens the definition of financial elder abuse to protect against lottery scams, check stealing and identification theft. Janice Rocco, a Jackson spokeswoman, said identification theft – including cases when perpetrators dig through garbage to find scraps of paper containing identifying information – is on the rise.

“This is true of individuals regardless of age,” Rocco said. “People do this because they can access a great deal of money. It is difficult to catch them, and if caught they face a minimum penalty.”

Bill 1131 would enact a stronger penalty on second-time offenders of financial elder abuse.

“The elderly are more prone to identity theft because they depend more on people who give them care,” said Robin McGrew, Ventura County deputy district attorney.

Reggie Ellis, the senior vice president of enterprise security at Santa Barbara Bank & Trust said that the bank had encountered instances of elderly identification theft.

“There’s no particular profile for people who commit identification theft,” Ellis said. “They come in all ages.”

Before this bill, provisions against identification theft existed, but none were designed specifically to protect senior citizens. The punishments – which now apply to forgery, fraud and identity theft as well as theft and embezzlement – include fines of up to $1,000 and up to four years imprisonment.

The second bill, AB 1290, places the same firearm restrictions associated with domestic violence or stalking restraining orders on people who have restraining orders as a result of elder abuse. They will not be allowed to own, purchase or possess a firearm while the restraining order is in effect.

Rocco said statistics from the U.S. Dept. of Justice show that people who are under restraining orders for elderly abuse are the most likely to break those restraining orders, and therefore should not have access to firearms.

Jackson wrote the bills when the Ventura County District Attorney Office approached her about increasing protection for the elderly. The district attorney sponsored the bill and assisted with statistical information.

These two bills coincide with the California Attorney General’s Office recent campaign to increase penalties for those found defrauding the elderly.