Seventeen percent of Americans over the age of 65, or 6.8 million people, have been taken advantage of financially through high fees, inappropriate investments or outright fraud, according to a new survey completed by Public Policy Polling for the Investor Protection Trust. This result represented an improvement over a similar study taken in 2010, which discovered 20 percent of seniors had been victimized. Investor Protection Trust is a nonprofit organization devoted to investor education and protection. Those involved in the study said seniors, over time, have become better educated about financial matters, and that both the children and health care providers of seniors are more aware of medical problems that might diminish an older person’s ability to make decisions about money.

How do you recognize if someone is at risk of financial exploitation? Red flags that someone may be at risk of elder investment fraud and financial exploitation are as follows: social isolation, bereavement, dependence on another to provide care, financially responsible for adult child or spouse, alcohol or drug abuse, depression or mental illness. In addition, red flags from clinical observations that someone is at risk include the following: cognitive problems, fearful, emotionally labile or distressed, suspicious or delusional, change in appearance, poor hygiene, accompanied by a caregiver that is overly protective/dominates the patient/client, or change in ability to perform activities of daily living, including self-care, daily finances or medication management.

What can you do if you believe someone is the victim of financial exploitation or at significant risk? You can report your concerns to local Adult Protective Services www.apsnetwork.org. You may also need to contact an elder law attorney to discuss the legal remedies and other resources available to stop, prevent, or remediate the financial harm www.naela.org. Referrals for further medical evaluations by a geriatrician, neurologist, psychiatrist or psychologist may also be warranted.