CONTRIBUTORS

Reporting possible cases of elder financial abuse

Posted July 15, 2012, at 3:16 p.m.

The Bangor Daily News deserves credit for highlighting elder financial abuse in a June 28 front page story about a Lincoln County senior whose life savings were stolen by a trusted friend. To accompany the story, the newspaper listed organizations that people can consult when they have questions or concerns about elder financial exploitation. Having worked with Gov. Paul LePage to highlight the recent observance of Elder Abuse Awareness Day, I want to emphasize that financial exploitation of seniors in Maine and across the nation is a growing concern, and one that is underreported. I also want to offer additional resources.

As he has done with the issue of domestic violence, LePage is encouraging greater awareness of elder abuse. To draw attention to what is sometimes referred to as the “crime of the 21st century” because of its increasing prevalence and devastating effects, the governor issued a proclamation designating June 15 as Maine Elder Abuse Awareness Day. The proclamation urges the state’s residents to join this effort by reporting suspected abuse of Maine’s seniors.

Elder abuse comes in various forms — emotional, physical, sexual and financial. It may involve abandonment, neglect or the draining of a senior’s monetary assets. Sadly, these crimes are underreported, leaving too many victims to suffer. Maine has the resources and strong desire to provide assistance and support, but it’s imperative that more people speak up and report their concerns.

Financial exploitation, which includes investment fraud, is among the most common forms of elder abuse, costing its victims an estimated $2.9 billion each year in the United States. Seniors are disproportionately the target of these crimes. All too often, the abuse is perpetrated by caregivers, family members or trusted financial advisers.

Maine’s Department of Professional and Financial Regulation has agencies dedicated to educating the public and helping the victims of financial abuse. The Bureau of Consumer Credit Protection, for example, offers “Downeaster Guide to Elder Financial Protection.” The 32-page publication is available free of charge to Maine residents by calling 800-332-8529 (800-DEBT-LAW). Covering virtually every imaginable issue of financial concern to seniors, the guide can also be found online at www.credit.maine.gov under “Publications.”

Additionally, the Bureau of Financial Institutions provides an extensive online Consumer Library ( www.maine.gov/pfr/financialinstitutions) with many offerings of interest to seniors and their caregivers, while the Bureau of Insurance ( www.maine.gov/pfr/insurance) addresses insurance-related concerns.

Maine’s Office of Securities, another agency within DPFR, assists the elderly and all others who have questions or concerns about investment scams. Maine Securities Administrator Judy Shaw emphasizes that investment fraud is an area of particular concern, because victims can quickly see their entire life savings depleted with little opportunity to recover financial stability. She also notes that losses through financial abuse can also lead to physical and emotional health problems. For investment-related questions or concerns, the Office of Securities can be reached toll-free at 877-624-8551 and online at www.investors.maine.gov.

Understanding which seniors in our communities may be especially vulnerable to elder abuse and financial exploitation, and spotting the red flags of abuse, are essential to ensuring that victims get the help they need. Signs that an older adult may be vulnerable to abuse or exploitation include, but are not limited to:

• Social isolation, depression, and-or recent loss of a spouse or partner.

• Recent decline in health or in the ability for self-care.

• Lack of familiarity with financial accounts and-or overly complicated finances.

• Dependence on another to provide everyday care or essential services.

• Willingness to listen to telemarketing calls or respond to solicitations from unverified charities or businesses.

Red flags that victimization may have already occurred include, but are not limited to:

• Senior has injuries that are not adequately explained.

• Change in appearance or poor hygiene.

• Senior is missing checks, account statements or documentation regarding finances.

• Running out of money at the end of the month or excessive anxiety about finances.

• Senior is accompanied by a caregiver who is overly protective or dominating.

As commissioner of Maine’s Department of Professional and Financial Regulation, I have a special responsibility to assist the department’s staff in combating elder financial exploitation wherever it occurs and in whatever form it takes. To dramatically reduce the number of cases, however, we need the help of all Maine people. Please report cases of suspected financial abuse to law enforcement and to the department by calling 624-8525.

Other state agencies provide additional support and vitally important services to help seniors who may be at-risk, particularly for physical and emotional abuse, including the Adult Protective Services agency within Maine’s Office of Elder Services, which can be reached online at www.maine.gov/dhhs/oes or by calling 800-624-8404.

Anne L. Head is commissioner of the Maine Department of Professional and Financial Regulation.

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