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'Safe Seniors Act' targets fraud before it happens

In an effort to better protect Minnesota’s vulnerable citizens from financial exploitation like identity and investment fraud, lawmakers approved a bill Tuesday that would allow outside parties to intervene on behalf of seniors and others before making potential damaging financial decisions.

Dubbed the “Safe Seniors Act,” HF3833, as amended, sponsored by Rep. Joe Schomacker (R-Luverne), would allow broker dealers and investment advisors to report suspected financial exploitation to the Department of Commerce or the Minnesota Adult Abuse Reporting Center, followed by an opportunity to freeze any related accounts to prevent financial injury. The bill would give law enforcement an opportunity to intervene and provide legal immunity to the reporters who disclose the information to governmental agencies or in court proceedings.

The measure would only apply to protecting Minnesotans age 65 and older, or anyone defined by statute as a “vulnerable adult.”

“This bill helps us partner with our financial professional industry and provides a tool to prevent fraud and exploitation before it happens in the first place,” Department of Commerce Government Affairs Liaison Megan Verdeja said.

The House Commerce and Regulatory Reform Committee approved the bill, sending it to the House Civil Law and Data Practices Policy Committee. Its companion, SF919, sponsored by Sen. Karin Housley (R-St. Marys Point), awaits action on the Senate Floor.

Rep. Debra Hilstrom (DFL-Brooklyn Center) said the bill needs tightening, since it attaches an age to the issue and a statute-defined mental capacity. There are also Fourth Amendment concerns if law enforcement becomes involved, she noted.

“At the end of the day, we all want to protect seniors, but we have to make sure that we respect seniors, too,” Hilstrom said.

Robyn Rowen, executive director at Minnesota Insurance and Financial Services Council, estimated the average theft from seniors is $36,000, a devastating blow to their finances. The type of situation addressed in the bill, however, is relatively rare, she said.

Sean Burke, public policy director for the Minnesota Elder Justice Center, said 5 percent of seniors 65 and older will be exploited this year.

“It’s one more way…to prevent on the front end financial exploitation of seniors,” Commerce Commissioner Jessica Looman said.

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