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Seniors, caregivers, service providers get tips on preventing elder abuse

Posted Sept. 11, 2012, at 7:58 p.m.
Last modified Sept. 11, 2012, at 8:26 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — One in every nine people over the age of 60 is the victim of some form of elder abuse, including financial exploitation, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

In Maine, that translates to 33,000 seniors, according to some of the experts who participated in “Outsmarting Financial Fraud and Elder Abuse,” a free educational seminar on elder financial fraud and abuse held Tuesday at Spectacular Event Center.

The event, provided at no cost to participants, was one of five being held around Maine this week, organizers said Tuesday.

Based on national statistics, it’s estimated that nearly 5,000 elders in Maine are victims of financial abuse each year, says Jessica Maurer, executive director of the Maine Association of Area Agencies on Aging and chairwoman of the newly formed Maine Council for Elder Abuse Prevention.

The numbers also show that more often than not — in as many as 90 percent of all cases — the abuser is someone close to the elderly victim, such as a son, daughter or other family member or caregiver, adds Martha Perkins, regional manager of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services’ Office on Aging and Disabilities Services. That is why many cases go unreported, she said.

While underreported, the financial loss suffered by victims of elder financial abuse nationally is believed to total at least $2.6 billion annually, according to the Department of Justice.

“For too long we have ignored this as an issue,” Perkins said. “We are losing our elderly to an epidemic rarely talked about.”

As the Maine Office of Securities noted in a recent news release, the escalation of elder financial abuse in Maine and the nation makes it one of the fastest growing crimes of the 21st century.

That is why the state’s office of securities, the FINRA Investor Education Foundation, the Maine Association of Area Agencies on Aging, Legal Services for the Elderly, Rape Response Services and others teamed up to offer senior citizens around Maine — and those who care for or provide services to them — tips on how to avoid being a victim of financial and other forms of abuse, including physical, sexual and emotional.

The point of the session was to give seniors and those who care about them some “red flags” to watch for, some practical tips for prevention fraud and other forms of abuse, what to know when attempting to intervene, and resources for getting help, including legal advice.

According to Susan Arthur, an investor education trainer for FINRA who spoke in Bangor, some of the top persuasion tactics used by scammers — which should be considered red flags are:

• “Phantom riches,” or assets and products that do not exist. (Such as Ponzi schemes.)

• Source credibility, or the use of credentials, licenses and certifications that may not exist. “The bottom line here with all of that is that can be faked,” Arthur said.

• Social consensus, or group pressure, which Arthur described as the “Everybody else is doing this; it must be good” line of thinking. Even churches have been caught up in those cases, she said.

• Reciprocity. It’s typical for someone in their golden years to want to give when someone gives to them, Arthur said, noting that many offer to bring wine or a dish when invited to dinner. But a free lunch or vacation shouldn’t lead to a $100,000 investment, she said. “Just make sure it’s an equitable exchange,” she said.

• Scarcity, or “If something is rare or scarce, it must be valuable.” Television infomercials and shopping channels have this tactic down pat, she said. “It’s a very effective and powerful tactic and it’s often used at the very end of a sales pitch,” she said.

Her key words of advice? “Ask and check.”

For information about elder financial abuse, call the state’s office of securities at 877-624-8551 and the Maine Association of Area Agencies on Aging at 877-353-3771.

In addition, FINRA’s website, SaveAndInvest.org, offers a wealth of information and tips aimed at helping seniors and others avoid becoming fraud victims.

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