AUGUSTA, Maine — No Maine senior is immune from elder abuse.
That was the message from Judith Shaw, co-chairwoman of the Maine Council for Elder Abuse Prevention. She’s also the chief of Maine’s Office of Securities, so when an elderly family member received an email from what appeared to be her address, promising big returns on a new investment, it seemed trustworthy.
Shaw’s loved one smartly set up a monthly automatic bank account withdrawal and looked forward to the coming windfall. Except the email didn’t really come from Shaw. It came from a scam artist who impersonated Shaw to gain his victim’s trust then made off with the cash.
The scam eventually was discovered and payments were stopped, but the fraudster never was caught, Shaw said.
Financial exploitation is the most common kind of elder abuse, Shaw said, and vigilance is required to stay protected.
“The problem of elder abuse is rampant across the country, and Maine is no different,” Shaw said during a news conference Wednesday at the State House. June 15 is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, she said.
According to the federal Office of Justice Programs, about 33,000 Maine seniors are victims of elder abuse each year. Forms of victimization include not only financial exploitation, but physical and sexual abuse, neglect and abandonment.
As the state’s elderly population continues to balloon, advocates expect the number of elder abuse victims to grow.
Shaw and others said it’s crucial for community members to take notice of “red flags” such as sudden changes in appearance or personality, social isolation, unexplained injuries or the sudden inability to meet financial obligations.
Often, abuse is perpetrated by family members, said Lynne Caswell, who co-chairs the council with Shaw. For that reason, victims sometimes are hesitant to reach out for help.
“We call on Maine citizens to look out for those red flags,” Caswell said. “These vulnerable elders often don’t have the means to speak up for themselves.”
Maine State Police Sgt. Patrick Hood echoed that remark, saying that for law enforcement, “the greatest frustration comes from being called too late.” He said that only one of 14 cases of elder abuse is ever reported.
It’s not an issue that should be “kept in the family, behind closed doors,” he said.
People who suspect elder abuse can call local police or Maine Adult Protection Services at 800-624-8404.
Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.