New State Law to Protect Seniors Citizens from Financial Exploitation

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WESLACO – A new state now allows banks and other financial institutions to place holds on suspected fraudulent transactions.

A Better Business Bureau representative told CHANNEL 5 NEWS the law which passed late last year may prove to be an effective tool in making sure seniors in the Rio Grande Valley keep what's theirs.

Jerry Rash and his wife moved to the Valley in 1976. He said he and his wife fell in love with the weather, the food and square dancing. He told CHANNEL 5 NEWS he even helped add to the population.

"Several of us who were national callers and we would travel throughout the country. We'd take our brochures and invite people to come down to the Valley. So we brought many, many people here to the Valley," Rash said.

Rash told CHANNEL 5 NEW he loves the Valley, but he's not a fan of one thing. He explained for a number of years he and many of his friends have become the target of suspicious callers.

"You get these calls from IRS all the time supposedly you know, stuff like that. I think the fraud that I have been aware of the most is the worst one is credit cards," Rash said.

Rash explained he often shares information with friends to help them avoid falling victim to fraudulent calls.

However, he said, he continues to hear horror stories of friends losing the money they've worked hard for over the years.

Well, now there's a law that can help protect seniors from being financially exploited.

"That's where the banker is covered, I mean, he won't get in trouble for looking into it. When as before he just had to stand there and let it happen," Obregon explained.

Robert Obregon is a project coordinator at Better Business Bureau. He said House Bill 3921 was designed to protect those over the age of 65 and those disabled ages 18 to 64 from becoming financially exploited.

"Anyone associated with the bank who suspects an elderly person is being taken advantage of or is being financially exploited can bring to the attention of the proper authority," Obregon said.

He explained those authorities include the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services or law enforcement agencies. Then an investigation may be opened.

Obregon said banks also have the authority to freeze a suspicious transaction for up to 10 days and if requested by a federal or state agency conducting the investigation, an additional 30-day hold may be applied. He told us there's more.

"When people were trying to cancel, they had a hard time canceling that direct withdrawal. So this law also assists them. They can now go directly to the bank and tell we want to put a stop on this and the bank will investigate," Obregon told CHANNEL 5 NEWS.

Obregon said that can be an effective tool for seniors who find themselves automatically renewed in automatic debt agreements after the term of their original contract.

He explained, for taking these actions in the past, banks could find themselves sued.

Rash told CHANNEL 5 NEWS he hopes the helps he and other seniors protect the money they worked for.

We reached out to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. A representative asked anyone who witnesses financial exploitation of seniors and disabled persons to please call their toll free report line at 800-252-5400 or report it online here.

You can view a list of possible indicators of abuse, neglect or exploitation of senior citizens the department website here.

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