Saturday, 04 December 2021

Berg bills target salesmen who prey on the elderly

SACRAMENTO – Assemblywoman Patty Berg on Thursday introduced a pair of bills that will stop unscrupulous salespeople from using bogus titles to gain the confidence of older adults, who all too often lose their life savings to sweet-sounding pitches by so-called experts.


Assembly Bills 2149 and 2150 would regulate the use of words or phrases that suggest special expertise in the finances of the elderly.


Under these bills, insurance agents and financial planners would be prohibited from claiming to be a “Senior Financial Expert” or similar title without undergoing state-recognized training on the subject.


“They use these titles to gain seniors’ trust,” said Berg, D-Eureka. “We want to make sure those titles actually mean something.”


Nothing says “trust me” to an older person like the words “Certified Senior Advisor” written in gold letters on a business card.


But too often that trust is not deserved. Too often older people are convinced to buy long-term investment instruments such as annuities that are ill-suited to their needs, but which pay lucrative commissions to the sales agents. And all too often the people who sell these products have little or no legitimate training in managing the finances of older adults.


Elder financial abuse is one of the fastest growing segments of crime. Nearly a quarter million older Californians fall prey to some sort of swindle or abuse each year.


A recent New York Times investigation found that the number of “certified” senior experts in the sales force has increased 78 percent in the last five years. Some of these agents are, of course, legitimate experts, but many either obtain their “credentials” through dubious means, or simply invent a title themselves.


“There are a lot of good people out there doing business with seniors,” said Berg, who chairs the Assembly Committee on Aging and Long-Term Care. “This regulation will help the good actors as much as it will hinder the bad ones.”


The bills are sponsored by the California Alliance for Retired Americans and the Congress of California Seniors. The Gray Panthers of California and the Older Women’s League are also in support.


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