Bryan Cohen Apr. 17, 2013, 6:11pm

HELENA, Mont. (Legal Newsline) - Montana Attorney General Tim Fox announced on Tuesday that Governor Steve Bullock signed a bill into law that would protect vulnerable consumers from scams.

Fox and his Office of Consumer Protection brought forward HB 287, which was sponsored by Rep. Dan Salomon (R-Ronan), in an effort to impose stricter penalties on scammers who target elderly and intellectually disabled Montanans.

"One in four elderly Montanans fall victim to scams," Fox said. "As a rural state with an older population, Montana makes a tempting hunting ground for scam artists. This legislation will help preserve the money and sense of security of some of our most trusting and vulnerable neighbors."

Before the new law, the maximum civil fine for each violation of the Consumer Protection Act was $10,000. The bill gives the court the ability to impose an additional $10,000 penalty for each violation if the victim is a person aged 60 or older or a person with an intellectual disability.

The additional penalty would be imposed on a scammer if the defendants knew or should have known the target of the scam was an older or intellectually disabled person or if the older or intellectually disabled person suffers one of several types of losses. The losses can include loss of employment or other source of income, substantial loss of retirement, pension or other government benefits, loss or encumbrance of their home, loss of property set aside for retirement or for personal or family care and maintenance or the loss of assets essential to health or welfare.

Fox's Office of Consumer Protection received 1,423 complaints last year. Of the 1,204 people who completed the demographic section of the complaint form, 429 people or 35 percent indicated their age was over 60.

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