With proposed legislation, banks could help protect financially exploited adults

SHERIDAN — The Wyoming Legislature’s Joint Judiciary Committee will spend some of its interim session looking for ways to protect vulnerable adults from financial exploitation.

According to Wyoming statute, a vulnerable adult is anyone older than 18 “who is unable to manage and take care of himself or his money, assets or property without assistance as a result of advanced age or physical or mental disability.”

The Judiciary Committee’s interim work will involve reviewing and rewriting Senate File 76, a bill introduced by Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, during the 2022 budget session. The bill passed through the Senate before dying on general file in the House, Case said.

Senate File 76 allows banks to alert the Wyoming Department of Family Services when they believe financial exploitation may be occurring, Case said.

“Probably in Wyoming more than other places, people who work in banks…know you very well,” Case said. “As you get older or become vulnerable in some ways, people in banks might recognize some things that are happening. With the right legislation, we might be able to prevent vulnerable adults and older people from being scammed.”

The legislation also allows banks to place holds on financial transactions — for as long as 10 days — when there is a suspicion of fraud taking place against a vulnerable adult. The bill offers immunity from legal action pertaining to these holds, said Korin Schmidt, director of the Wyoming Department of Family Services.

“If there is a hold placed on those funds for 10 days as a result of a bank making that decision to report to law enforcement and DFS, they are immune from any type of action in regard to that hold,” Schmidt said.

The bill is an attempt to solve a very real problem in Wyoming, said AARP Wyoming’s Associate State Director Tom Lacock, who said Wyomingites suffered $7.8 million in fraud losses in 2021, with a median of $500 lost per event. 

Schmidt said as many as 140 new vulnerable adult cases come to the DFS each month, and 20 percent of those deal with financial exploitation.

“What the hold does is really give law enforcement or the Department of Family Services a chance to look into (the situation) and make sure that person is a vulnerable adult underneath the statute … and it gives that vulnerable adult a chance to keep as much of their funds as possible,” Schmidt said. “What we have seen is that, many times, the money goes faster than the investigation can occur, so 10 days might not seem like a lot, (but it does help).”

Currently, Wyoming and Nevada are the only two states without this sort of protection for vulnerable adults, said Wyoming Banking Association President Scott Meier, who authored the bill.

“This is not something to be last in…” Meier said. “It does make Wyoming look like it’s a target.”

While other states have similar legislation in place, there is no uniformity among the legislation, Meier said. Thus, the judicial committee asked Legislative Service Office staff to collect information on other state laws and how they compare to what is being proposed in Senate File 76.

That information will be reviewed at the committee’s next meeting, Sept. 12-13 in Casper, and will direct the creation of a new bill draft, according to Sen. Tara Nethercott, R-Casper. 

The goal is to have a version of the bill ready for consideration in the coming 2023 general session of the Legislature.