For the Elderly, an Epidemic of Fraud

One in Five Over 65 Has been Abused Financially, Survey Shows

The fleecing of older Americans is becoming an epidemic. People 60 years and older made up 26% of all fraud complaints tracked by the Federal Trade Commission in 2012, the highest of any age group. In 2008, the level was just 10%, the lowest of any adult age group.

One in every five Americans age 65 or older has been abused financially, according to a 2010 survey by the Investor Protection Trust, a financial-education organization. Financial abuse cost older Americans at least $2.9 billion in 2010, up 12% in two years, according to Metropolitan Life Insurance.

"It is a big and growing problem," says Robert Roush, who runs a geriatric education center at Baylor College of Medicine.

The ability to recognize fraud can fade with aging, even among people without dementia, research shows. As the number of seniors increases, they also are becoming more-enticing targets. Cheap Internet phoning, emailing and rapid fund-transfer technology makes it easy to contact—and swindle—potential targets. People strapped after the financial crisis can be more apt to fall for get-rich-quick schemes. They can lose thousands of dollars or more before families notice.

Only 10% of such frauds are reported, investigators estimate. Older people often fear losing their independence if their children find out. Most reported cases aren't even investigated.

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