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Fraud Watch: Montana agencies launch Senior Financial Exploitation Task Force

Posted at 7:31 AM, Feb 21, 2019
and last updated 2019-02-21 09:31:06-05

HELENA – State leaders say people over 65 are the top targets for financial abuse and exploitation.

At the office of State Auditor Matt Rosendale, Montana’s securities and insurance commissioner, about three-quarters of securities fraud cases they handle involve seniors. Leaders say older Montanans are targeted because they have built up wealth over the years.

“That’s where the money is,” said deputy securities commissioner Lynne Egan. “That’s where the con artists are preying; that’s where exploiters are looking to get rich quickly.”

In 2017, Montana lawmakers passed a bill allowing financial advisers and other professionals to delay making payments from a vulnerable person’s account when they suspect exploitation. They can then contact the auditor’s office, which will determine the next steps that should be taken.

“The industry is great eyes for their seniors,” Egan said. “They’re the ones that know them, they know their past patterns and practices, and if something seems unusual, we’ve encouraged them to reach out to us. We have tools to help.”

Since the bill took effect, Rosendale’s office estimates they’ve received about 30 reports of possible financial exploitation and stopped around $5 million in suspicious transactions.

Rosendale said, after these incidents, they began looking for better ways to protect Montana seniors.

“We started realizing that there’s other agencies that could be involved in this process to help us identify these problems earlier,” he said.

Last month, Rosendale announced the creation of a Senior Financial Exploitation Task Force. At the new group’s first meeting, those in attendance included Attorney General Tim Fox and leaders from the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services, the Montana Division of Banking and Financial Institutions and the Montana County Attorneys Association.

“We’re trying to make sure that we establish a process, that we have a good line of communications between the agencies, that we are using good consistent terms and definitions so that everyone is speaking the same language,” said Rosendale.

Over the coming months, Rosendale said the task force will work on creating a rapid response plan for when someone spots suspected exploitation. They are also planning to develop training so people can learn to recognize the warning signs.

Egan said some of the red flags for senior financial exploitation can include:

  • A senior suddenly changes their investing patterns.
  • A caretaker, friend or family member begins taking the place of a senior in financial transactions.
  • Overuse of a power of attorney.
  • A senior becomes difficult to reach or isolated.

She said, in many cases, people are afraid or ashamed to report what has happened.

Rosendale said the new task force will keep working to better serve Montana seniors.

“Those folks have worked their entire lives, they’ve saved, they’ve tried to prepare for their later years,” he said. “We’re just trying to make sure that someone doesn’t swoop in and take advantage of them.”

If you suspect a senior citizen is being financially exploited, you’re asked to contact the state auditor’s office at (406) 444-2040 or at Egan said you can also contact DPHHS’ Adult Protective Services Bureau or a trusted member of the victim’s family.

By Jonathon Ambarian – MTN News