AUGUSTA — Maine officials rolled out a new program on Monday designed to bolster protections against the financial exploitation of the elderly by training staff at banks and credit unions to be aware of red flags and to properly report them.
The Senior$afe program, which will also make educational materials available at banks, aims to put more resources at the “front-line” to prevent financial abuse of seniors, which is often carried out by family members and caregivers or strangers through email and phone scams — a problem that officials said will only grow as Maine’s population continues to age.
“We want to make sure that we do everything possible to make sure that (the elderly) are not exploited and that their retirement funds are used specifically for that purpose and not for any other purpose,” said Anne Head, commissioner of the Maine Department of Professional and Financial Regulation.
Banks and Credit union staff will be trained on possible scenarios of financial exploitation, like irregularities in banking activity, and on ways they can help customers that are potentially being exploited, said Lynn Caswell, co-chair of the Maine Council for Elder Abuse Prevention. Training sessions are scheduled to begin this month.
The state is promoting the program as a first-in-the-nation effort to combat the growing issue. Staff at banks and credit unions have long been trained to see and report signs of financial abuse, but the training will now be enhanced by new federal guidelines released last year that clarify privacy laws for banks, said Kathleen Keneborus, director of government relations and compliance for the Maine Bankers Association.
“While this kind of training might be possible all over the country now, Maine really is leading the charge and taking that guidance and turning it into practical on-the-ground direction for our banks,” said Jaye Martin, executive director of Legal Services for the Elderly.
The Senior$afe program is one of several initiatives recently launched to take on aging issues in Maine, which has the nation’s highest percentage of baby boomers at more than 29 percent and the oldest median age, 43, according to recent state analysis of census data. Earlier this month, Attorney General Janet Mills announced the creation of a task force that seeks to address barriers to prosecuting financial exploitation crimes.