‘You took it all away.’ New law shields seniors from scams

Seniors make up almost a third of all financial scams in Connecticut. But a new law, ceremonially signed by Gov. Ned Lamont on Thursday, gives banks new tools to step in before a victim loses their money.
“YOU JUST RUINED A WOMAN’S LIFE”
Peggy Marcinko, of Trumbull, spent her life working as a Veterans Administration nurse – only to lose her life savings in a sophisticated scam.
“My mother received a phone call in the morning saying that it was Bridgeport Police Department, and that I've been involved in a car accident,” said Marcinko’s daughter, Sue Thibodeau.
Later, Marcinko reported getting more calls, including from her own daughter crying into the phone. She withdrew $20,000 in cash and handed it to two different drivers.
“You just ruined a woman's life,” said Thibodeau. “You just took it all away.”
Police said scammers captured Thibodeau’s voice and used artificial intelligence to impersonate her. Connecticut Attorney General William Tong is warning that “deep fake” AI schemes are now common – and extremely difficult to detect.
NEW LAW
Banks are often the first to flag suspicious activity, but right now, their hands are tied.
“When an elderly customer insists on performing transactions that involve exploitation, any bank that refuses to honor the transaction runs the risk of being sued by their customer,” the Connecticut Bankers Association told state lawmakers in February.
But a new law will let financial institutions step in. For customers who are at least 60 years old, banks will be able to temporarily freeze suspicious transactions for seven business days. Investment advisors will get 15 days. Both can extend the hold to 45 days if they can show just cause.
Banks and financial advisers can also notify a trusted relative and relevant state agencies. The law shields financial institutions from liability if they act in good faith.
Lamont signed the law at a senior living apartment complex in Cheshire, where legislators from both parties shared personal stories.
“My father is living with dementia, and he is the target of scams all the time,” said state Rep. Liz Linehan (D-Cheshire).
CUSTOMERS’ RIGHTS
But what if someone doesn’t want the protection? Customers, or their legal representative, can ask a probate judge to lift the hold.
“It doesn't take your independence away. It gives you some new tools,” said Amy Porter, commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Aging and Disability Services. “It gives your banks the ability to contact you, or to contact someone you've said, ‘This is the person I want them to talk to.’”
The new law doesn't take effect until July 2024.