Some readers may have taken part in a nationwide call-in last Thursday. The event was a concerted effort to highlight the growing problem of financial abuse of older people.
The problem is huge, probably on the order of billions of dollars. It’s estimated that one in five senior citizens in the United States has been victimized financially in what is becoming known as the leading financial crime of the 21st century.
Many Americans remember the tears that punctuated testimony by actor Mickey Rooney before a Senate committee. The well-known former child star reported that he had been a victim of financial abuse for years. Rooney was one victim who has spoken publicly about the problem — millions of others do not, so the true extent of the problem isn’t known.
To help stem the growth of elder abuse, several groups teamed up on Thursday’s call-in: Investor Protection Trust , the National Adult Protective Services Association , the Financial Planning Association and Baylor College of Medicine. Kiplinger’s Personal Finance was also a partner in the hot line effort.
Northeast CONTACT had just two days’ notice of the event — ordinarily, we would have made readers aware of such an undertaking ahead of time so they could take part. Our focus now is to suggest areas where people with problems may get answers to their questions.
One source of help is the Maine Office of Securities, which investigates and prosecutes violations of securities laws. It also licenses broker-dealers, investment advisers and investment adviser representatives as well as reviews registration statements and exemption filings for securities issuers seeking to sell in Maine.
The office’s home page notes that Maine has joined more than two dozen other states in an effort called the Elder Investment Fraud and Financial Exploitation Prevention Program. From the Office of Securities home page, readers can make a link to EIFFE ( http://www.investorprotection.org//learn/?fa=eiffe) to learn about education and enforcement efforts across the country.
One of the partners in the call-in, the Financial Planning Association, encourages consumers to do thorough research before sharing financial or other personal information with someone claiming to be a financial planner. Ryanne Enyeart, assistant director of consumer services for FPA, told me about a recent survey showing 59 percent of financial planners are aware of a client or acquaintance who had been victimized by poor or dishonest advice from a less-than-reputable counselor.
FPA members must adhere to a code of ethics, stressing professionalism, fairness, confidentiality, integrity and competence in advising their clients. Enyeart suggests interviewing at least three planners, preferably in person. Ask about their experience, qualifications and education; what licenses they hold; how they charge for services and what disciplinary actions — if any — have been taken against them.
Of FPA’s mission, Enyeart says, “We really are trying to provide an extra layer of protection for consumers, particularly the elderly.” The association offers help through its website at www.fpanet.org or by phone, 800-322-4237 ext. 7151.
Back in Maine, the Office of Securities home page offers visitors a look at a couple of “what every investor needs to know” publications. One deals with self-directed IRAs (the subject of an Oct. 28 alert from the office — see www.investors.maine.gov) and the other looks at the burgeoning gold market. Help is also available over the phone, toll-free. The Office of Securities number is 877-624-8551.
If you know an adult who is incapacitated and dependent who you suspect is being abused, you may call Adult Protective Services at 800-624-8404 to make a confidential report.
Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s membership-funded, nonprofit consumer organization. Individual and business memberships are available at modest rates. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for more information, write Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer 04412, visit http://necontact.wordpress.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.