Financial exploitation crimes against the elderly in Maine aren’t being adequately investigated or prosecuted because of a variety of roadblocks throughout the justice system, including lack of training and misconceptions about the crimes, a state attorney general’s task force has concluded.

In the report released Wednesday, the task force recommended changes to state law and in how cases are handled and additional staffing and specialized training for law enforcement officials, prosecutors and the court system.

The Maine Attorney General’s Task Force on Financial Exploitation of the Elderly, convened by Attorney General Janet Mills in January 2014, included representatives from the attorney general’s office, district attorneys, law enforcement officials and representatives from the judicial and executive branches.

At a news conference unveiling the report Wednesday at the State House, Mills said law enforcement, district attorneys and the court system need to make it easier for seniors to report these crimes, for investigations to happen and for cases to be prosecuted promptly in court.

The task force found that challenges include investigations that are time consuming and require extensive record collecting, a perception among criminal justice officials that these are family or civil issues, a lack of training in handling financial crimes against the elderly and an inadequate legal framework for prosecuting the crimes.

The report estimates 33,000 elderly Mainers will be abused or exploited in 2015, based on U.S. Department of Justice’s estimation that one in nine people over the age of 60 will be abused or exploited.

“The criminal justice system is failing victims,” District Attorney Maeghan Maloney said at the news conference. “We need to have a new approach, so we can move these cases through the court system, so we are able to get the victims the help they need in their lifetimes.”

Maloney, district attorney for Kennebec and Somerset counties, cited a recent case her office prosecuted in which the victim died before she could get restitution for the crime.

The task force is recommending that courts provide priority scheduling to cases involving elderly victims and give more consideration to the age and limitations of a victim.

Assistant Attorney General Leanne Robbin, who chaired the task force and has experience prosecuting elder abuse cases, said what happens in a typical scenario is a child or trusted caregiver taking care of the elderly person obtains power of attorney and begins to take money from the elderly person’s financial accounts or sells her or his property. Often, the person taking the money has financial problems and sees the power of attorney as a right to take the money, Robbin said.

Part of the goal of the task force’s recommendations is to ensure law enforcement officials view the acts as potentially criminal and not just family or civil matters, she said.

“I think there was a view for a while that if a suspect had the power of attorney, they had the authority to take money,” Robbin said.

Only 14 percent of victims of these types of crimes report them to law enforcement, said Jaye Martin, executive director of Legal Services for the Elderly, a nonprofit organization that provides free legal help to Maine seniors.

Martin, who provided research and support for the report, said the task force analyzed cases and found only a third were actually prosecuted.

Often, people don’t report the cases because they’re ashamed, still dependent on the alleged perpetrators or not fully aware of the problems, she said.

Martin said her organization handles around 350 cases of financial exploitation against elders each year, but there isn’t a comprehensive total of all cases prosecuted in the state.

If recommendations from the task force are implemented, Martin said she thinks they will have a significant, lasting impact on the problem.

“It’s a road map and very reasonable,” she said. “It is not overly ambitious as far as I’m concerned.”

The recommended state law changes include clarifying that using the age of the victim when considering sentencing is not limited to children and also applies to older adults who may suffer more significant harm or be more vulnerable, allowing protective orders to be issued for dependent or incapacitated adults on the basis of financial exploitation, and improving the language of the law against endangering the welfare of a dependent person.

The task force recommends creating a statewide Financial Abuse Specialist Team, a concept that has worked elsewhere in the country to provide support to law enforcement officials in removing barriers to investigating and prosecuting the crimes.

The Maine Department of Health and Human Services has already begun developing a FAST team for the state and has budgeted two positions to work with law enforcement and prosecutors on cases involving older victims, according to the report.

The task force also recommends adding a dedicated investigator and special prosecutor in the Office of the Attorney General to handle financial crimes against older adults, but the report didn’t provide cost estimates for the positions.

Mills said her office can hold trainings for law enforcement officials without new legislation. Her office will also ask the Maine Criminal Justice Academy to include training for handling financial exploitation crimes against the elderly, she said.

Her office will focus on encouraging major police departments in the state to designate a specialist for investigating reports of elder abuse, similar to specialists for reports of civil rights violations or domestic violence, she said.

“This is the new horizon,” Mills said.