State Auditor Bill to Increase Punishment for Financial Fraud

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HELENA, Mont. – Montana Securities Commissioner Monica J. Lindeen announced her effort to increase the punishment for criminals who cheat Montana seniors and other vulnerable citizens through financial fraud.

House Bill 57 would increase the penalties for those who commit financial crimes against those over 65 or those with a developmental disability. The bill would also make it easier for seniors or other vulnerable victims to recover more of their losses through the Montana Securities Restitution Assistance Fund.

Financial criminals target seniors citizens and can drain them of their life savings, ability to provide for themselves – and their dignity,” Lindeen said. “It can be very difficult for seniors to even report the crimes for fear of embarrassment. This bill would put more teeth in our laws, offer meaningful punishment to criminals, and more recovery to victims.”

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Moffie Funk, D-Helena, increases the maximum fine for fraudulent financial practices against a vulnerable person from $5,000 to $20,000 per violation. In addition, it doubles the amount of money such victims can recover from the Montana Securities Restitution Assistance Fund — established by the Montana Legislature in 2011 to enable Montana victims of financial crimes to recover a portion of their losses. The money for that fund comes from the fees paid by registered firms doing business with Montana investors. No taxpayer money is used in the fund.

Financial criminals often intentionally single out vulnerable persons for their victims. The North American Securities Administrators Association reported that 34% of securities enforcement cases involved people aged 65 and over. Yet senior citizens represent just over 13 percent of the U.S. population, according to Census data.

The bill would allow such victims to receive a maximum award of $50,000 or 50 percent of their unpaid restitution from the assistance fund. Lindeen stressed the importance of these funds, saying financial fraud against vulnerable Montanans affects everyone.

If a senior citizen or Montanan with a developmental disability loses their savings to a criminal and is unable to provide for himself or herself, society rightly steps in. Recovering more money for such victims – who generally are out of the workforce and often have less ability and time to recover from the loss – helps people maintain their financial independence.

The bill is scheduled to have a hearing before the House Business and Labor Committee at the Capitol in Room 172 at 8 a.m. on Tuesday, January 13, 2015.