Senator Susan Collins enlists state regulators to pass bill to strengthen senior financial protection

The legislation is based on a program in her home state of Maine, where 50 referrals have been made on suspected abuse within two years

May 16, 2016 @ 2:11 pm

By Mark Schoeff Jr.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine., called on state securities regulators on Monday to help her advance a bill that would make it easier for financial professionals to report exploitation of seniors.

Ms. Collins' legislation would provide liability protection for people working for financial firms and the firms themselves for notifying appropriate agencies when they suspect that elderly clients are the targets of a scam.

The measure was introduced last fall and has seven bipartisan cosponsors. But the legislation will need more support in order for it to be brought up and passed by the Senate Banking Committee and acted on by the full Senate, Ms. Collins said.

“I'm optimistic that if we can show greater interest in the bill, we can get it approved by the Senate,” Ms. Collins said in a speech at a North American Securities Administrators Association conference in Washington.

She hopes the full Senate would approve the bill by voice vote and the House would take it up in a lame-duck session late this fall.

State regulators have made senior financial abuse a priority, and NASAA approved a model rule that is now being considered by individual states.

Ms. Collins urged the state officials to push for her federal bill during meetings on Capitol Hill with lawmakers.

“You can make the difference on whether this bill passes,” said Ms. Collins, chairman of the Senate Aging Committee. “We need your help in pushing the bill over the finish line. What a difference that will make to our seniors.”

The legislation is based on a program in her home state called Senior Safe.

Under the initiative, credit union and bank employees have received training in spotting elder financial abuse. Over the two years that it has been in place, more than 50 referrals have been made regarding suspected abuse to agencies such as Adult Protective Services.

A federal bill would put protections in place for financial-abuse reporting more efficiently across 50 states and augment NASAA's state-by-state efforts, said Ronald Long, director of regulatory affairs and elder client initiatives at Wells Fargo Advisors.

“To have the federal government interested in taking on this issue is fabulous,” said Mr. Long, who attended the NASAA conference. “This moves the ball soon on a number of issues.”

Ms. Collins anticipates support on both sides of the aisle for the bill, which addresses the $2.9 billion seniors lose annually to scams and nefarious schemes.

“This should not be a partisan issue in any way,” Ms. Collins said.

She credited NASAA, and especially a late former president of the organization, Patricia Struck, for keeping attention focused on senior financial abuse. Ms. Struck, former Wisconsin securities administrator, died in December.

Ms. Collins called senior exploitation the “crime of the 21st Century” that targets “the silver tsunami of retirees.”

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