New Law Helps Protect Seniors from Financial Exploitation

new lawQ. Last summer, you wrote about a veteran named Larry Cook who was a victim of financial exploitation. He was scammed out of millions of dollars in Virginia before he died. Mr. Cook was very careful with his money and would never have allowed himself to be exploited so badly had he been in his right mind. His credit union really should have done more to stop him from wiring millions of dollars overseas.

I remember his niece had been pushing for stronger protections following her uncle’s death, and I heard something about Larry’s Law being passed in Virginia just recently. I also heard that there are similar laws in Maryland. What is that all about? Thanks for your help!

A. More than 88,000 people over age 60reported losing a combined $3.1 billion in elder financial scams in 2022. Unfortunately, Larry Cook in the article you described was one of those victims of financial exploitation and lost millions.

As you mentioned, after Mr. Cook was scammed out of $3 million in an alleged wire fraud scheme, his niece pursued justice. Janine Williamson (then Satterfield) indicated that Mr. Cook was vulnerable to fraud after suffering a stroke that left him cognitively impaired. She sued the credit union where her uncle banked over his losses. Williamson lost her case because records show the financial institution had reported concerns to Adult Protective Services. In addition, in court records, the credit union indicated it had warned Cook “numerous times” that he was being victimized.

Despite having lost the case, Williamson believes that her uncle’s credit union should have done more to stop him from wiring millions overseas. Del. Michelle Maldonado, D-Manassas, agrees and fought to enact a law in Virginia, which I will describe later in this article, along with a law in Maryland that accomplishes the same important tasks.

Forty States Have Adopted the Basic Structure of the NASAA Model Act

On a federal level, the North American Securities Administrators Association (NASAA) Model Act is aimed at protecting older adults from financial scams. It is not the first piece of legislation to tackle the issue. The Senior Safe Act, which became federal law on May 24, 2018, was designed to encourage reporting of financial exploitation of senior citizens. It gives financial institutions immunity from liability for reporting possible exploitation of senior citizens, if certain conditions are met. For example, if staff at a financial institution has completed the appropriate training, then that financial institution can receive immunity when reporting suspected financial exploitation. This extends to supervisors, as well as employees on the compliance and legal teams. The immunity also applies to registered investment advisers and insurance producers affiliated or associated with the financial institutions.

Not every state has passed such a rule. The NASAA Model Act was designed so states around the country could use it to create their own legislation. About 40 states, including Maryland (HB 1149 and SB 951) and Virginia (SB 1490 and HB 1987), have adopted its basic structure, but not all states adopted laws identical in structure to the NASAA Model Act.

Click here for the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) Senior Safe Act Fact Sheet for helpful details and resources.

What the Virginia Senior Safe Act Does

As described earlier, Delegate Michelle Maldonado of Manassas sponsored the Virginia Senior Safe Act, though she calls the bill “Larry’s Law” in honor of Mr. Cook. The Virginia General Assembly passed the measure earlier this month to encourage banks to do more to spot, prevent, and report the financial exploitation of seniors and other vulnerable adults.

The Virginia Senior Safe Act was the result of a joint effort between regulators and the financial and legal communities to prevent the financial abuse and exploitation of vulnerable adults. The act intends to “empower and encourage” financial institutions to identify warning signs of financial exploitation and help prevent seniors from becoming victims.

Many banks already report suspected concerns of financial exploitation of seniors or vulnerable adults. The Virginia Senior Safe Act is designed to eliminate barriers financial professionals may face in doing so.

Maldonado describes the purpose of the Virginia Senior Safe Act as follows:

  • Financial institutions will create uniform training guidelines in Virginia for spotting and reporting suspected abuse and exploitation.
  • Banks will have broader legal protection if they are accused of sharing private information in the pursuit of trying to protect a customer.
  • Credit unions and banks that undergo the training won’t be held civilly liable for disclosing their concerns to the proper people and authorities.
  • The bill directs the Virginia Bureau of Financial Institutions to create the training guidelines by January 2026.

Maryland’s SAFE (Stop Adult Financial Exploitation) Act Was Enacted in October 2021

With the passage of House Bill 1257/Senate Bill 941, the Maryland Legislature established a new type of protection for seniors living in Maryland. Financial institution employees with customer contact often see situations develop where they believe that the customer is at risk. Maryland lawmakers believe that it is vitally important that they know how to report these cases to public authorities while appropriately safeguarding customer confidentiality.

With Maryland’s SAFE Act in place, employees of financial institutions are required to play a pivotal role in the process of detecting and reporting possible financial exploitation of seniors. This requirement builds on a 2000 law that allowed financial institutions to voluntarily report suspected exploitation of vulnerable adults. Through participation in Project SAFE, financial institutions and their employees can help to prevent financial exploitation of seniors. Learn more about Project SAFE in Maryland and why all seniors are at risk of being financially exploited.

Seniors Can Protect Themselves from Financial Exploitation

Recent studies suggest that financial exploitation — the illegal or improper use of an older American’s funds, property, or assets — is the most common form of elder abuse. It is estimated that only one in 44 cases financial exploitation ever comes to the attention of Adult Protective Services.

How can you work with your bank or credit union to protect yourself?

  • Immediately report suspected financial exploitation – Regularly monitor your account for suspicious activity. Promptly contact local law enforcement and your bank or credit union if you suspect that you or a loved one have been a victim of financial exploitation.
  • Create a Power of Attorney: Plan ahead by giving a trusted person the legal authority to make financial decisions for you if you cannot. Make sure your banks and credit unions have a copy of your power of attorney on file so they know who can manage your money if you become unable to do so. If you haven’t already filed your training with all of your financial institutions, then you should strongly consider updating your Power of Attorney every year to ensure it is accepted at your financial institution — many financial institutions will not accept a power of attorney that is more than one year old; some have a three-year requirement for a five-year requirement.
  • Ask financial institutions about educational materials and events: Many banks and credit unions have numerous resources on how you can protect yourself and your loved ones from scams and exploitation.

If you think that a family member or friend has been exploited, call your local Adult Protective Services agency and law enforcement to report it. You can visit to find your local Adult Protective Services agency and other service providers that can help.

Plan in Advance to Protect Yourself and Your Loved Ones

Protection from scams is vitally important, which is why we continually share information about current scams targeting elders and how you can protect yourself and your loved ones. It is also vitally important to plan for your future and to help your loved ones plan for their future. If you or your loved ones have not done Incapacity Planning, Estate Planning, or Long-Term Care Planning, or if you have a loved one who is nearing the need for long-term care or already receiving long-term care, please contact us when you’re ready:

Northern Virginia Elder Law: 703-691-1888
Fredericksburg Power of Attorney: 540-479-1435
Rockville Elder Care: 301-519-8041
DC Elder Care: 202-587-2797

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About Evan Farr

Evan H. Farr is a 4-time Best-Selling author in the field of Elder Law and Estate Planning. In addition to being one of approximately 500 Certified Elder Law Attorneys in the Country, Evan is one of approximately 100 members of the Council of Advanced Practitioners of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is a Charter Member of the Academy of Special Needs Planners.

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