Reported By: Tom Porter
State officials today announced an initiative to combat financial abuse of Maine's elderly and vulnerable population. Maine is joining a national scheme called the Elder Investment Fraud and Financial Exploitation prevention program. The move is in part prompted by new medical research showing THAT more than a third of Americans over 71 have a mild form of Alzheimers, making them especially vulnerable to financial scams.
"There really is no end to the creativity of a scam artist," says Judith Shaw, administrator of the Maine Office of Securities, which is overseeing the program. She says the the problem is particularly germane to the Pine Tree state, which Census figures show has the oldest population in the nation.
"We are seeing more and more elderly citizens throughout the country who have mild cognitive impairment, not necessarily full-blown Alzheimers, who are finding themselves getting scammed by people who are looking to take away their treasured retirement savings," Shaw says.
The collective retirement savings of America's elderly represent a tidy sum: According to a recent national study, 34 percent of America's net worth -- that's more than $15 trillion -- is held by citizens 65 and older. And one in five of those seniors have been financially ripped off at some point, according to the same study.
Judith Shaw says her office handles, on average, about 200 fraud complaints across Maine every year, most of them involving elderly people who've been duped in a variety of ways.
"From calling elderly citizens on the phone and convincing them to invest in gold or silver commodities, to encouraging them to purchase a business opportunity--for example, obtaining a credit card number from a senior investor, and them billing thousands and thousands of dollars for a non-existent opportunity to make money based on a web-based product," Shaw says.
The program, she says, is all about education, and it starts with the state's medical professionals, which include social workers, nurse practitioners, physicians and physicians' assistants. About 200 of them will attend training sessions, where they'll be given guidelines on how to spot the warning signs of mild cognitive impairment.
To achieve this, the state is teaming up with experts from the University of New England's Geriatric Education Center, where Judith Metcalf is director. "By educating health professionals to identify and screen for vulnerability with referral routes, health professionals will become much more atttuned, and will be able to recognize this financial vulnerability much more quickly."
Metcalf says the health professsionals will be given a list of red flag questions to ask their patients. These questions must be asked tactfully, she says, but they may help indicate whether or not a patient is suffering from some sort of cognitive impairment which would make them easy prey for scam artists.
Questions such as: "Who manages your money day-to-day? And 'How's it going?'" Metcalf says. "Another might be, 'Do you run out of money at the end of the month?' A third might be 'Do you regret or worry about financial decisions you've recently made?' A fourth might be, 'Have you given power of attorney to another person?'"
If red flags are raised, the healthcare professional will be told exactly where to refer to the person for help. The cost of establishing the program in Maine is about $30,000. But Judith Shaw of the Office of Securities says this won't cost the state penny. "The money for the program is being funded by grants administered by the Investor Protection Trust."
The Investor Protection Trust, she explains, is a non-profit created to administer the proceeds of a multi-state settlement of enforcement actions brought against a number of large investment firms in 2003.
Click for Updates, More Cases and Resources
Search LABELS for More Resources