Attorney General Janet Mills launches consumer scam alerts program

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Maine Attorney General Janet Mills launched a new effort Friday to provide regular alerts warning about consumer scams that she said snare too many Mainers.

“We get hundreds of calls every week from people who got scammed,” Mills said following an address at the annual Fill the Plate Breakfast to benefit the Meals on Wheels program operated by the Lewiston-based SeniorsPlus.

She said informing people through social media may help ward off the “very sophisticated and very aggressive” con artists who regularly cheat people out of big money by pretending they are from the IRS, a credit card company or some other threatening entity.

Mills said her department is also hoping to hire a detective who can focus on financial exploitation cases and train police statewide in how to handle the growing problem that is especially focused on senior citizens.

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The breakfast fundraiser at the Hilton Garden Inn Auburn Riverwatch also focused on other issues related to older Mainers, including a plea from the president and chief executive officer of SeniorsPlus, Betsy Sawyer-Manter, to help her find someone to teach courses on seniors and sexuality.

Former Maine House Speaker Mark Eves, on hand to get an award for pushing a pro-senior agenda, told the crowd of nearly 200 that dealing with sex among the elderly is “a really important issue.”

“Nobody likes to think of their parents having sex, let alone their grandparents having sex,” he said, but recalling his 90-year-old grandmother talking about her boyfriend long ago made him realize that sex isn’t just on the minds of young people.

Sawyer-Manter said her organization, which serves three counties, deals with a wide array of issues that matter to seniors, from the Meals on Wheels program to financial advice for seniors, to assistance to the homebound.

“We want our clients to stay home — and that’s where they want to stay,” she said. Taxpayers benefit, too, she said, because it costs the government much less to assist seniors in their homes than to shell out for long-term care facilities.

Mills said her office is focused on trying to combat those who want to cheat seniors, and others, out of their savings.

“We’re on the lookout for this kind of thing every day,” she said.

The new initiative to bring consumer scam alerts to a dedicated Facebook page for her office — a move she admits is a little late in the game — is one part of the ongoing effort, Mills said. She said her office is working with the American Association of Retired Persons on the initiative.

Mills talked as well about the heartache and difficulties she faced a few years ago when she arrived home one day to find her husband, Stan, lying on the living room floor unable to speak or move much. He’d had a stroke, she said.

Helping him in the months that followed, Mills said, taught her not just the unpredictable and slow progress of recovery, but also the changes that are needed to make dealing with the health care system easier.

She said medical records remain “in the dark ages” at a time when they ought to be kept in electronic form and quickly available in a crisis — something the Affordable Care Act promotes — and that insurance is too fast to deny services and impose roadblocks.

Mills, whose husband died in 2014 in hospice after he “began to fade away,” called the health care system “chaotic, indecipherable and irrational.”

Both Mills and Eves said the state can do more for seniors, including moving ahead with the $15 million bond that voters overwhelmingly approved in 2015 to build affordable senior housing in Maine.

They also praised the work done by SeniorsPlus in Androscoggin, Franklin and Oxford counties.

The organization, established in 1972, delivered more than 100,000 meals to 800 homebound seniors and adults with disabilities, Sawyer-Manter said. It has 76 more on a waiting list that’s been growing, she said.

She cautioned that some reports of drastic cuts in Meals on Wheels funding in President Donald Trump’s preliminary budget proposal are jumping ahead of what’s actually known. She said some federal matching funds are being challenged, which would leave the program with fewer dollars, but “we don’t know the impact yet.”

Sawyer-Manter said, though, that “the need is severe” and likely to grow as the average age of Americans rises in the years ahead. Maine is ahead of the demographic curve already, with the highest median age in the nation.

“Funding is failing to keep pace,” Sawyer-Manter said. The $6,000 raised Friday will help, but the program needs much more to assist everyone on its waiting list, she said.

Attorney General Janet Mills addresses the Fill the Plate Breakfast fundraiser for the Meals on Wheels program of SeniorsPlus in Auburn on Friday.

Former Speaker of the House Mark Eves and Betsy Sawyer-Manter, president and chief executive officer of SeniorsPlus, chat after a breakfast fundraiser in Auburn on Friday.

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