When our kupuna are duped out of their savings by their own caregivers, it’s called financial abuse.

The question is, should that be seen as a separate, heinous crime?

According to a study by the National Adult Protective Services Association, 90 percent of the abusers are family members or someone known to the victim. But the penalties for caregivers who abuse them could be getting tougher.

State lawmakers are looking over HB432 that defines a caregiver as any person who has temporary or permanent care, custody or supervision or who has legal duty to care for the health of an elder.

Lawmakers are still considering the total amount of money taken before the crime is considered a felony.

Financial abuse against the elderly can include misusing ATM cards, stealing checks or overcharging for in-home care provider services.

AARP Hawaii state director Barbara Kim Stanton says elder abuse from caregivers can have lasting impacts on the victims. “You are talking about a group who are pretty much as vulnerable as you can get,” she said. “They are dependent on their caregivers and the fact that it hasn’t stopped or even slowed down at all shows you have to put an appropriate penalty in order to make the behavior change.”

According to statistics from the Hawaii Department of Human Services, there were 214 documented cases of abuse, neglect or financial exploitation last year.

One of the bill’s sponsors, State Rep. Dee Morikawa, says financial abuse should be made a felony “because there has to be a substantial penalty to deter this from happening. Because when you do exploit the elderly, you actually leave them in a place in their life where they have nothing. They become depressed and it’s almost making them very, very ill.”

The Honolulu Police Department has expressed its support for the bill, saying it “provides an additional mechanism to protect the elderly.”

Through written testimony– The Honolulu Department of the Prosecuting Attorney suggested a threshold of $50,000 to classify the offense as nothing less than a Class A felony.

Advocate for the elderly Jamie Rodrigues, however, is critical of the bill and says lawmakers should focus on programs that help the victims instead.

“It’s a non-violent crime,” Rodrigues said. “Our judiciary system is already inundated, our prison systems are already overfull of prisoners, and if we could, implement a system of consequences that would be better for the abused adult.”

The local AARP has two free events scheduled for next month on various islands to educate people about preventing older Americans from becoming victims of financial scams: A fraud watch network “shred-a-thon” to help dispose of documents on Saturday, April 22, and a “scam jam” to fight cyber threats and identity fraud on Thursday, April 27.

For more information:Click here for the “shred-a-thon”Click here for the “scam jam”

Or you can call the AARP Hawaii office at 545-6024.