The Straits Times says

Deter those who prey on vulnerable

The sentences handed out to convicted scammer Yang Yin were much anticipated as public outrage had grown at those who would treat Singapore seniors as fair game for get-rich-quick schemes. The Chinese national has been given 26 months' jail for having duped the authorities into granting him permanent residence status by setting up a shell company and falsifying receipts. Yang clearly is the kind of foreigner Singapore does not need, one whose premeditated subterfuge, sustained over years, was calculated to take advantage of immigration schemes hinged on genuine economic contributions. A talent for dishonesty and fraud in "foreign talent" is most certainly unwanted and must be strongly repulsed.

What is also worth pondering is the sentence handed down to Yang for criminal breach of trust for having misappropriated $1.1 million from an 89-year-old widow. He was given six years' jail, although prosecutors had asked for a 10- to 12-year jail term. After all, he had "intentionally fostered an environment of unquestioning trust" with the widow by "capitalising on (her) age and lack of familial support", as the prosecution said. His conduct was egregious to the point of disbelief. Quite apart from his dogged exploitation of an elderly person and his elaborate cover-ups, he showed a "total lack of respect for the judicial process" by flip-flopping and asking for the Deputy Public Prosecutor to be changed. Worse, he used the widow's money to needlessly drag out the legal process.

As Singapore ages, it will be called upon to invest more legislative resources in protecting its elderly from fraud or emotional pressure designed to exploit them financially. Laws must be capable of deterring predators, local and foreign, from trying their luck to hoodwink elders. As a means of self-defence, an essential piece of legal protection is the Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA). This allows people to voluntarily appoint one or more persons to take decisions and act on their behalf as a proxy decision-maker if they should lose mental capacity one day. The LPA allows appointees to act in two broad areas - personal welfare and property. Naturally, it is unwise to wait till one is showing signs of physical or mental vulnerability before executing an LPA. Knowing that provision has been made for the future will give peace of mind, as no one can predict when illness or deterioration will take place.

Ultimately, however, legal mechanisms can go only so far. Better protection is offered when healthy and resilient family relationships help to ensure at least one relative spots the danger signs when an elderly person is being manipulated by someone. The family remains the best protection in the wilderness that old age can turn into. When instincts of self-preservation are dulled by age, seniors should not be left to fend for themselves.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 03, 2016, with the headline 'Deter those who prey on vulnerable'. Print Edition | Subscribe