Holiday season reminds us to look out for one another

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By: Matt Rosendale

As Christmas comes around the corner, we are reminded that Montana really is just a small town with very long streets. Our Montana way of life, neighbors helping neighbors, was on full display this year as we dealt with one of the worst wildfire seasons in recent memory. On a personal note, I’d like to say thank you again to all the firefighters and volunteers, including those who contained the fire on my family’s ranch near Glendive while I was away serving as your State Auditor in Helena.

Whether it’s fighting fires in the summer, or pulling cars out of snow banks this time of year, Montanans always come together to help each other out. That’s why, as we reflect over the holidays and prepare for a new year, it’s important for us to discuss how we can work together to protect the vulnerable people in our community.

Too often, our seniors, people with cognitive impairments, and others are exploited for financial gain. This year alone, 130 victims were ordered to receive more than $5 million in restitution from the cases my office investigated and prosecuted. Five of those cases were criminal actions which resulted in over 50 years in state and federal prison for the perpetrators.

As Commissioner of Securities and Insurance, it’s my job to make sure we are prosecuting cases like Richard Brandt in Miles City, Ken Hatzenbeller in Great Falls, and Catherine Finberg in Columbia Falls. But the best way to help people is to keep them from being victimized in the first place, and that takes all of us working together.

I was happy to present Claudette Manson with our Investor Protection Award earlier this year. In her work with Adult Protective Services, she alerted my office to what would become the Brandt case and the longest criminal sentence in this agency’s history. I was also pleased that we were able to work with the legislature and governor to pass a new law allowing investment advisers to delay potentially fraudulent transactions from vulnerable people before they get scammed. My staff and I have met with law enforcement officers, county attorneys, and nonprofits to coordinate our efforts across Montana.

Even with these successes, we must all remain vigilant to protect our vulnerable neighbors, friends, and family members. Fraud and financial exploitation often come from people who are close to the victim, and the most vulnerable people are often those in their twilight years who’ve had a lifetime to accumulate assets. Our securities department just recently got a call from an 84-year-old man who was on the verge of being scammed out of $3,000. These situations are more common than many realize.

We all must work together to safeguard those closest to us. If an investment or an offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is, and if you suspect someone is being exploited, please report it to my office or your local authorities. The best solution is to prevent problems before they happen.

There’s no better time than the holidays to reflect on how we can care for our family, friends, and neighbors. Have a Merry Christmas!