How health practitioners can help lock up scammers targeting the elderly

Posted April 19, 2012, at 3:34 p.m.

Financial exploitation and investment scams targeting older adults are a growing problem in Maine and nationally.

In response, Maine’s Office of Securities, in partnership with the University of New England’s Geriatric Education Center and its Center for Community and Public Health, is training health care professionals to identify and assist seniors who may be victims of financial exploitation, as well as older adults particularly susceptible to this kind of increasingly prevalent abuse.

Launched on Wednesday at UNE’s Portland campus, the training uses a nationally recognized continuing medical education program that offers preventative strategies to health care practitioners. The program was presented by Maine Securities Administrator Judith Shaw and Dr. Robert E. Roush, director of the Texas Consortium Geriatric Education Center.

This specialized training also informs health practitioners on how to refer at-risk patients to state securities regulators and adult protective services for assistance.

Warning signs of financial exploitation and investment fraud among seniors include:

• unusual money worries on the part of the older person, such as trouble keeping track of expenses;

• running out of money before the end of the month;

• the sense that someone is stealing money or things from them;

• a change in appearance, such as poor hygiene;

• increased social isolation;

• an especially protective caregiver who appears to dominate the older person.

In some recent financial exploitation cases in Maine, the scammers went to lengths to keep the victim quiet — warning, for example, that if the victim said anything before the “prize money” or investment came through, they would lose their money. In these instances, the signs might be subtle and could include excitement that something wonderful will be happening in a few days or weeks that the senior can’t talk about, but is convinced will change his or her life for the better.

“With the senior population in Maine projected to double in the next 15 years, it is critical that we combine effective education and prevention with strong enforcement actions to punish criminals,” said Shaw. “It is essential to raise awareness and to take action before the money is gone.”

Health care practitioners participating in the training received a clinician’s pocket guide that can be used during a patient’s regular office visit. It includes a checklist of warning signs and screening questions.

More information about the training program, as well as general information for seniors and caregivers, can be obtained by contacting Maine’s Office of Securities at 877-624-8551 (TTY 1-888-577-6690).

Contributed by the Maine Office of Securities

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