Today, Governor Steve Bullock signed a bill brought forward by Attorney General Tim Fox and the Montana Department of Justice’s Office of Consumer Protection.
HB 287, sponsored by Representative Dan Salomon (R-Ronan), protects Montana’s most vulnerable citizens by providing a powerful deterrent to scammers who target elderly and intellectually disabled Montanans. Currently, the maximum civil fine, imposed at the discretion of the judge, for each violation of the Consumer Protection Act is $10,000. This bill allows a court to impose an additional penalty of $10,000 for each violation if the victim is an older person or a person with an intellectual disability. Older person is defined as age 60 or older.
“One in four elderly Montanans fall victim to scams,” said Attorney General Tim Fox. “As a rural state with an older population, Montana makes a tempting hunting ground for scam artists. This legislation will help preserve the money and sense of security of some of our most trusting and vulnerable neighbors.”
The additional penalty is imposed if: the Defendant knew (or should have known) that the target of the unfair or deceptive practice was an older or intellectually disabled person; or the older or intellectually disabled person suffers: loss or encumbrance of their home; loss of employment or other source of income; loss of property set aside for retirement or for personal or family care and maintenance; substantial loss of retirement, pension or government benefits payments, or loss of assets essential to their health or welfare.
Representative Salomon said, “This bill is important to ensure con artists don’t prey upon our most vulnerable citizens, who often are the target of fraud and scams. I appreciate the Attorney General’s Office and their leadership on this issue.”
Last year, Montana’s Office of Consumer Protection received 1,423 complaints. Of them, 1,204 people completed the demographic section of the complaint form; 429 indicated their age as over 60, or 35%.
Recent consumer protection cases in Montana where such a penalty would have been appropriate include that of an elderly man who lived alone and watched a lot of late night television, who was tricked into investing $70,000 in a real estate business scam; and that of an 84-year-old woman who didn’t drive or have a car, but was sold 15 extended warranties for $6,673.