HELENA, Mont. – A bill that would stiffen penalties for those who swindle Montana seniors out of their savings is headed to a hearing this morning – after passing with bipartisan support out of the Montana House of Representatives last week.
House Bill 57, part of a package of bills promoted by Montana State Auditor Monica J. Lindeen, would increase penalties for criminals convicted of financial abuse against Montana seniors and enable victims to recover a larger share of their losses through the state’s Securities Restitution Assistance Fund.
“Seniors are vulnerable to investment fraud and abuse. That’s why this office focuses on investor education to help seniors protect themselves,” said Lindeen, who regulates Montana’s securities industry. “By strengthening the punishment – and increasing the assistance – I hope to deter such crimes and help victimized seniors get back on their feet.”
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Moffie Funk, D-Helena, has attracted support of both Democrats and Republicans, passing out of the House on a 63-37 vote.
The bill would increase the fine financial criminals must pay from the current $5,000 per violation to $20,000 – if the victim is a senior citizen or any other Montanan defined in state law as a “ vulnerable person.” Possible prison time would increase to 20 years, up from the current 10 year maximum.
HB 57 would also double the maximum award victims could get from the restitution fund to $50,000 or 50 percent of their losses, whichever is less.
Senior citizens are an increasing target for financial crimes and, unlike younger victims, they frequently have no ability to recoup their losses. In its 2013 Enforcement Survey, the North American Securities Administrators Association reported that 34% of securities enforcement cases involved victims aged 65 and over.
Lindeen’s office routinely prosecutes criminals who target senior citizens. One recent case involved a 98-year-old victim who suffered from dementia; her stockbroker stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from her.
The Senate Business, Labor and Economic Affairs Committee will hear HB 57 at 11 a.m. in Room 422 of the Montana Capitol on Feb. 2.