Maine is probably the oldest state in the nation, in terms of the percentage of our population that’s over 65. With so many seniors around, there is unfortunately a lot of opportunity for older Mainers to be scammed financially.
In attempting to help seniors over the years, Northeast CONTACT volunteers have found many of them willing and able to keep themselves safe from financial predators. However, we have also discovered that it’s not always easy to identify those predators or even to determine that a given senior has been defrauded.
There are a number of reasons:
- Scams are more and more sophisticated, making them harder to detect;
- Victims may feel there is no way to recover lost funds;
- Seniors are embarrassed about “being taken” and so do not report incidents;
- Older Mainers may be scammed by neighbors or relatives and not know who to turn to.
Medical professionals may be in the best position to help. A close professional relationship can give a doctor, nurse or other medical care provider a chance to help an older citizen who may be the victim of a financial crime.
The State of Maine is joining a national effort called the Elder Investment Fraud and Financial Exploitation prevention program. It will train roughly 200 medical care professionals to spot older patients who might be victims of financial exploitation, and then refer them to adult service professionals and state securities regulators for follow-up.
Maine Securities Administrator Judith M. Shaw announced the effort last week, saying it’s critical to combine effective education and prevention measures with enforcement action to punish criminals. “Regulators know that when it comes to protecting older investors, it is essential to take action before the money is gone,” Shaw said.
The University of New England’s Geriatric Education Center will take the lead in finding ways to deliver the program to health professionals around the state. Judith A. Metcalf, director of the UNE center, said the Biddeford-based center is looking forward to the challenge.
“Many aspects of normal aging and disease can contribute to older adults’ vulnerability to investment fraud and other financial abuse,” Metcalf said.
“This program provides an innovative new approach to reduce victimization.”
The Elder Investment Fraud and Financial Exploitation prevention program allows participants in Maine to work with nationally recognized experts in geriatric education and fraud prevention. They will then be able to train physicians and other health care professionals to use a simple screening tool to identify patients who may be at higher risk of becoming victims of investment fraud.
Money for the program comes from a multistate settlement in 2003 of enforcement actions brought against several large investment firms. The money is made available through grants, and no state funds are involved.
For information about this new initiative, health care professionals and others can contact Maine’s Office of Securities at 877-624-8551. Consumers wishing to check an investment adviser, salesperson or investment product can also call the office, visit the agency’s website at www.investors.maine.gov, or write to Maine Office of Securities, 121 SHS, Augusta 04333-0121.
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, or go to necontact.wordpress.com, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.