ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Financial scammers who target elderly or vulnerable Minnesotans would face stiffer penalties under a law Gov. Mark Dayton included in his two-year budget proposal.

The proposed law would tack on an additional $10,000 fine for consumer fraud crimes committed against vulnerable or older adults. That group could expand beyond seniors, but officials haven’t yet decided on specifics.

Seniors make up about one-fifth of financial abuse victims nationwide, Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman said Thursday. They’re tempting prey for scammers because old age often comes with reduced cognitive abilities.

Dayton’s plan would also add a $1 fee to insurers for every life insurance or annuity product they sell. That money would help hire outreach employees, a senior ombudsman and an investigator.

About 13 percent of Minnesotans were 65 or older in 2010, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That population is expected to grow rapidly in the next decade.

Seniors made up more than half of the victims in reports of financial exploitation to the state’s Adult Protective Services office last year. The total number of reports is also growing.

Elderly people can fall victim to scams from strangers, friends or family members, said Iris Freeman, president of the board of directors at the Minnesota Elder Justice Center. And they don’t always report when a crime occurs.

“People are scared. People are embarrassed. People are just not willing to make that call,” Freeman said.

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