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Elder Fraud Vote Postponed by Committee

The state Senate’s Committee on Financial Institutions and Revenue postponed a vote on Senate Bills 19 and 20 after a lobbying group raised questions that caused confusion about the scope, purpose, and practical application of the bills.  

The State Bar of Wisconsin, the state trade association for lawyers, was represented by Carol Wessels of Wessels & Liebau LLC in Mequon, who testified in opposition to the elder fraud protection legislation. “These bills have the potential to cause long-lasting, severe damage," stated Wessels. "Not only do these bills cause. . . severe financial damage and irreparable harm to the citizens of this state, who are 60 and over, but the bills are a substantial threat to individual liberty.” 

Wessels continued, “We recognize these bills protect the public good, but it comes at a price of a very important liberty…these bills threaten that third interest (money) that is critically important to seniors." 

WBA Chair-Elect Ken Thompson, president/CEO of Capitol Bank in Madison, testified in support of both bills on behalf of Wisconsin’s banking industry stating, “there should be a sense of urgency to do something. . . Since COVID-19 began, fraud attempts have nearly tripled.” Thompson told the committee the bills will “give bankers tools, hopefully to reduce the probability of financial loss.” 

Senate Bill 19 allows that if a financial service provider reasonably suspects that financial exploitation of an adult at risk or an individual who is 60 years of age or older has occurred or been attempted, the financial service provider may, but is not required to, refuse or delay a financial transaction on an account of the vulnerable adult or on which the vulnerable adult is a beneficiary or on an account of a person suspected of perpetrating financial exploitation.  

The definition of “financial service provider” under the bill includes financial institutions, mortgage bankers and brokers, other types of lenders, and check cashing services. In addition, a financial service provider may, but is not required to, refuse or delay a financial transaction if an elder-adult-at-risk agency, adult-at-risk agency, or law enforcement agency provides information to the financial service provider that financial exploitation of a vulnerable adult may have occurred or been attempted. The bill requires notice if a financial service provider refuses or delays a financial transaction under these circumstances and establishes certain time limits applicable to the refusal or delay of the financial transaction. In addition, the bill allows a financial service provider to refuse to accept a power of attorney of a vulnerable adult if the financial service provider reasonably suspects that the vulnerable adult may be the victim of financial exploitation. 

Supporters of the legislation include the Wisconsin Bankers Association, Wisconsin Credit Union League, AARP Wisconsin, and the Alzheimer’s Association.

Please contact members of the Senate Committee on Financial Institutions and Revenue to urge them to support SB 19 and SB 20: 

Sample Message:
Dear Senator Stafsholt:  

My name is [name], and I am [role] at [name of bank] in [city/town], Wisconsin. I am writing to urge you to vote in favor of Senate Bills 19 and 20. Bankers are in a unique position to be able to identify, prevent, or stop elder financial abuse – they just need some additional empowerment. Our goal is to be part of the solution, so any tools that help bank staff prevent customers from becoming elder fraud victims are efforts we support. Over the next two decades, Wisconsin’s 65 and older population will increase by 72%, and one in nine seniors have reported being abused, neglected, or exploited in 2017. According to the Wisconsin Department of Justice (DOJ), the rate of elder financial abuse has increased by double digits in our state in recent years. These bills will enhance financial institutions’ ability to detect and prevent the increasing problem of elder financial exploitation in our state and we encourage you to support them.  


By, Alex Paniagua