‘Bad actors’ lure seniors

Rep. Margaret Donnelly (D-St. Louis)

Rep. Margaret Donnelly (D-St. Louis)

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – A free lunch could cost you your retirement savings.

Luring the unsuspecting with a free lunch or dinner seminar, scam artists, frequently know as “bad actors” use high pressure techniques to swindle Missourians out of hundred of thousands of dollars a year.

Sponsored by Margaret Donnelly (D-St. Louis), House Bill 1488 would elevate the penalties for committing a number of financial crimes against the elderly or disabled.

Currently the penalties for these crimes are fines of not more than $1 million and no more than 10 years in prison, or both. If passed, HB 1488 would set minimum penalties of fines no less than $50,000 and no less than five years in prison for crimes committed against the physically/mentally disabled or those at least 60 years old.

“We’re just trying to protect the hard-earned savings of Missouri senior citizens,” she said.

Donnelly said in her testimony Tuesday to the committee on Crime prevention and Security that she had spoken to one victim of securities fraud who “with tears in her eyes she said she felt so foolish.”

While financial crimes and identity theft are highly prevalent, research done by the Secretary of State’s office showed “bad actors” target the elderly, disabled and those preparing for retirement.

Scam artist will use high-pressure techniques to lure potential victims into making extensive investments with their savings.

“For seniors that may mean coming out of retirement and working again, even after a life time of working and saving and raising a family, or cutting back even further on essentials like healthcare,” Donnelly said.

Other schemes include con artists gaining the trust of seniors at church or other community events and using those relationships for identity theft.

“They [senior citizens] are targeted,” said Secretary of State Robin Carnahan, “These advertisements are mailed to peoples homes, they are on the radio, on television, in the newspaper . . and they almost always turn into high pressure situations.”

Carnahan said her office gets daily reports of securites fraud, with an average of 300 per year on a specialty tip line alone.

“It’s an issue that no one likes to talk about but it is an issue that can be defined as common,” she said.

The Secretary of State’s office recently launched an investigation into “free dinner seminars,” sending individuals to 30 different events where they found 60 percent were not licensed to sell securities or give financial advice in Missouri.

“One group was told that if they retired early and made this investment they’d be better off than if they kept working,” Carnahan said, “Many of those had to go back to work just to keep their homes. The impact of fraud is very real.”

After hearing testimony on the bill, the committee moved to other business without taking action on the measure.