MANCHESTER — Karen Michaud dealt with plenty of budgets as a business manager for the Maine Department of Conservation, but all that experience didn’t deter her from attending a conference last week on money management strategies and consumer fraud.

The 71-year-old retired state worker said learning more about how to manage finances is important, especially for people living on fixed incomes in the wake of the biggest economic downturn in the United States since the Great Depression.

The Maine Bureau of Consumer Credit Protection offered the conference in conjunction with the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston and the University of Maine at Augusta. The conference was held at Jewett Hall Auditorium at UMA.

“It’s important to be aware of what’s available to make us a little smarter with dealing with personal finances,” said Michaud, of Manchester. “It was interesting the way she broke down the savings part of it. I think when we’re younger you just live day to day and don’t look into the future, when you (will) retire. We don’t think about inflation and how it’s going to affect whatever savings we have.”

Budgeting has become increasingly important in the lives of cash-strapped Mainers.

Prices for gasoline and heating oil have risen more than 30 percent this year, crimping consumer spending and helping inflate prices for cereals, dairy products, meats and other foods. The U.S. Department of Agriculture said retail food prices are expected to rise another 3 percent to 4 percent this year.

Few economists are predicting a big upward swing in wage growth. However, Maine’s employment market appears to have stabilized and is poised to add jobs this year, economists have said.

Glenn Mills, director of economic research for the Maine Department of Labor’s Center for Workforce Research and Information, said the numbers indicate Maine’s economy started and ended 2010 with nearly the same number of nonfarm jobs — about 593,000. That’s a notable improvement from 2008 and 2009, when the Maine economy lost a total of 30,000 jobs, Mills said.

Weak labor markets presage economic stress for citizens.

The U.S. Bankruptcy Court District of Maine has reported that the number of Mainers seeking bankruptcy-court protection from creditors is on the rise. In 2006, there were 266 filings for Chapter 13 and 1,047 filings for Chapter 7. In 2010, the court reported a total of 582 Chapter 13 bankruptcy cases and 3,585 Chapter 7 cases.

Michaud said she got some tips on saving by attending the conference — including a presentation given by Susan LeDuc, regulatory compliance officer with Loring, Wolcott & Coolidge Trust LLC, called “Budgeting: Creating a Spending Plan and Sticking to It.”

LeDuc said more than half of adults do not maintain a budget or keep track of their expenditures.

“Thirty-three percent don’t have money for a rainy day,” LeDuc said. “A budget takes motivation, knowledge and time . . . It requires upfront planning, occasional updates and, at some point, saying, ‘I can’t spend money on that because it’s not in my budget.’ “

As a senior citizen, Michaud said she was interested in what Assistant Attorney General James McKenna and U.S. Postal Inspector Michael Desrosiers had to say about the latest scams and how people can protect themselves.

They talked about fakechecks.org, where citizens can find out more information about international “crooks” getting Americans to cash counterfeit checks and send money out of the country. Other scams include illegal foreign lotteries, work-from-home scams, identity theft and telemarketing frauds.

“I’m using the Internet more now and find it to be a little scary,” Michaud said. “I wanted to get some ideas on how to prevent from getting into trouble. I’ve had a couple of viruses crash my computer. You have to be very careful. And there’s all kinds of scams. You hear horror stories. It’s always surprising to me that people will give out personal information.”

Desrosiers talked about phishing scams, which involves Internet “fraudsters” who send spam or pop-up messages to lure personal information including credit card numbers, bank account information, Social Security number and passwords, from unsuspecting victims.

“The bad guy creates a home page that looks identical to a real company’s homepage,” Desrosiers said. “They’ll send out a message that says, ‘Our computers went down and we lost your address, Social Security number or PIN.’ Once you hit send, the bad guys have all that information. He then goes online representing people he scammed and applies for savings accounts, checking accounts and credit cards. He gets credit in someone else’s name and transfers the money into a fraudulent checking account then transfers it into his own legitimate account.”

Desrosiers said a Nigerian citizen who came to Maine to attend college got over $200,000 from his phishing scam before being caught.

“He got six years of federal time in the prison system and then deportation,” he said. “Anybody can fall victim to scams. And a lot of it is going on right here in Maine.”

Mechele Cooper — 623-3811, ext. 408

[email protected]

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