BANGOR, Maine — While evidence of elder abuse can sometimes be apparent, when seniors are being victimized financially, it can be difficult to spot.
This latter problem is the subject of federal legislation to encourage banks to be on the lookout for fraud involving seniors, which has drawn U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, chairman of the Senate Aging Committee, and Reps. Bruce Poliquin and Chellie Pingree as sponsors.
Collins, a Republican, introduced the Senior $afe Act with Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Missouri, in October 2015. Poliquin, a Republican, and Pingree, a Democrat, are co-sponsors of a companion bill — the Senior $afe Act of 2016 — that was approved by the House in July.
Financial abuse “affects far too many people in our state and throughout the nation,” said Collins at a Thursday gathering at the Bangor Savings Bank in Bangor, where she was joined by Poliquin.
Collins’ legislation is based on Maine’s Senior$afe program, a collaborative effort by state regulators, financial institutions and legal organizations to educate bank and credit union employees on how to identify and help stop financial exploitation of older Mainers.
Over the last few years, seniors have fallen prey to the infamous “Jamaican Lottery Scam,” the notorious IRS phone scam, the bail-a-relative-out-of-jail scam, pension advance swindles and others that annually result in seniors losing an estimated $2.9 billion, Collins said.
Federal privacy laws have limited bank and credit union employees who notice fraud. The new legislation would provide financial institutions with liability protection as long as employees are trained to detect and report suspected financial exploitation, their reports are made in good faith and on a reasonable basis, and they are reported to the proper authorities.
Maine is the oldest state in the country, based on the median age of residents, which is 43.5 years, and only Florida has a higher percentage of people age 65 or older.
“One in five seniors in Maine — one in five — are victims of fraud,” Poliquin said, adding that most of the time the crimes are not reported.
“It is disturbing and truly despicable to see so many seniors in our state fall victim to such criminal deception from scammers time and time again,” he said later, adding that he has been worried about his own parents, who are in their 80s, falling prey.
Bangor Savings Bank CEO Bob Montgomery-Rice and Rob Carmichael of Maine Savings Federal Credit Union both said Maine’s program, which was put into place last year, has helped prevent fraud and in turn helped Mainers keep their money.
Collins said protecting seniors from financial exploitation and fraud is one of her top priorities as chairwoman. She also added that she has received three calls from scammers looking to separate her from her money.
“[Seniors] should be very wary when someone asks for money,” Collins said.