3/11/2016 9:54:20 AM
The Minnesota Commerce Department recently came to the aid of an older woman who had met a man on a well-known dating website. We weren’t breaking up a romance. We were stopping a crime.
The man claimed to be a Minnesotan living overseas and he told a heart-rending story, preying on the woman’s generosity and ultimately persuading her to send him tens of thousands of dollars through a series of money orders and wire transfers.
Her financial institution grew concerned about these unusual withdrawals and transactions, especially when they noticed multiple individuals gaining online access to her account from outside the United States.
Even though she believed this man would marry her, the financial institution got the woman’s permission to call our agency. An investigator immediately went to her house and proved to her that she was being scammed, saving her from even greater financial losses.
Unfortunately, this Minnesota woman’s story is not unique.
Instead, it is just one among our many cases and a distressing reminder that seniors are often targeted by crooks and fraudsters. It also highlights how financial service providers are uniquely positioned to help identify and stop these crimes on the front lines.
According to the Investor Protection Trust, one out of every five persons over the age of 65 has been victimized by a financial swindle. One recent study estimated that older Americans are defrauded out of nearly three billion dollars each year.
The threat of senior financial fraud is expected to grow as the senior population itself grows. In Minnesota, the number of people age 65 and over will double between 2010 and 2030.
As the state’s consumer protection agency, the Minnesota Commerce Department is proposing legislation to collaborate with the state’s financial service providers and institutions to help protect older adults against financial abuse.
Because of their long-standing relationships of trust with older clients, they are able to serve as a first line of defense to spot and stop financial crimes. But current law limits the actions they can take to protect their senior clients.
Endorsed by AARP Minnesota and with State Sen. Kevin Dahle and State Rep. Leon Lillie as chief authors, the Minnesota Safe Seniors Financial Protection Act would provide new tools to state-regulated broker-dealers, investment advisers and financial institutions, including banks, credit unions and other financial businesses such as money transmitters.
First, Minnesota would join 24 other states in requiring companies to immediately report to authorities when they have a reasonable belief of financial exploitation against a senior or vulnerable adult.
Second, they would be allowed to notify and work with a victim’s family members to intervene, unless the family member is a suspect.
Third, pending an investigation, they could delay for a limited time the withdrawal or transfer of funds from a victim’s account if they reasonably believe it may result in financial exploitation.
Finally, by acting in good faith and exercising reasonable care, they would be immune from administrative or civil liability for the required reporting, family notification and delayed transactions.
Financial exploitation takes many forms, from classic Ponzi schemes with fraudulent investments promising “guaranteed” profits to fake sweepstakes and lottery scams that claim to offer a valuable prize but insist on an upfront payment.
The common denominator among these predatory practices is that they aim to separate seniors from their hard-earned savings. It is a threat that requires an “all hands on deck” response from those in a position to prevent and stop these crimes against seniors.
Commerce is here to help. If anyone has questions or concerns about a potential fraud or scam, we encourage them to contact our Consumer Services Center by email at email@example.com or by phone at 651-539-1600 or 800-657-3602 (Greater Minnesota).
Mike Rothman is the Minnesota Commerce Commissioner.
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