Investment fraud and financial exploitation of senior citizens are getting worse, according to a new survey.

The survey, of 762 experts who deal with the problem, found that 84 percent believe it is increasing. Seventy-five percent of the respondents said that older Americans are “very vulnerable” to financial swindles, and 24 percent said they were “somewhat vulnerable.” Survey respondents included securities regulators, adult protective services workers, medical professionals and law enforcement officials. The nonprofit Investor Protection Trust commissioned the survey.

Nearly three out of four of the respondents (58 percent) deal with elderly victims of investment fraud and financial exploitation “quite often” or “somewhat often.” Fewer than one in 10 (7 percent) said they never deal with such victims. Nearly all of the experts (96 percent) said the problem of elderly investment fraud and financial exploitation in the U.S. is “very serious” (70 percent) or “somewhat serious (26 percent).

More than nine out of 10 respondents (93 percent) indicate that medical professionals can play a “very” or “somewhat” important role “when they are trained to spot and report the warning signs of elderly investment fraud/financial exploitation.”

“The message from those on the front lines of investor protection is clear,” said IPT president and CEO Don Blandin in a statement.  “Swindles targeting older Americans are a bigger problem today than ever before.  That’s why we have already trained 3,000 U.S. medical professionals who deal everyday with older Americans to spot the impaired mental capacity that can leave seniors vulnerable to financial abuse. We want to head off financial swindles before the damage is done.”

According to the experts, the top three reasons why elderly investment frauds go unreported are “shame on the part of victims” (86 percent); “the ability of con artists to string victims along until it is too late” (80 percent); and “failure of adult children to spot the problem and intervene” (70 percent). 

Ninety-six percent of the survey respondents said that “potential problems with mental comprehension make seniors more vulnerable” to financial swindles “very often” or “quite often.”

Eighty percent of respondents said that their experience is “very” or “somewhat” consistent with a 2008 study that found that about 35 percent of the 25 million people over the age of 71 in the U.S. either have mild cognitive impairment or Alzheimer’s disease, making them especially vulnerable to financial exploitation, including investment fraud.

Senior citizens have long been the target of unscrupulous investment scam artists. According to the 2010 IPT Elder Fraud Survey, more than seven million older Americans —one out of every five citizens over the age of 65—already have been victimized by a financial swindle.  

The IPT launched its Elder Investment Fraud and Financial Exploitation Prevention Program in 2010. Starting with a grant from the Investor Protection Trust in 2008, the Huffington Center on Aging at Baylor College of Medicine and the Texas Consortium Geriatric Education Center developed a program called the Elder Investment Fraud and Financial Exploitation Prevention Program. In 2009, the TCGEC and its affiliates in nine locations in Texas conducted a series of 10 pilot continuing medical education programs throughout the state.

The new and old surveys are available at www.investorprotection.org.

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