By Sandy K. Johnson

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has some good financial advice for older folks: Hope for the best, plan for the worst.

Americans lose up to $36 billion to scams and fraud each year. Older people are most likely to be targeted by scams, and half are likely to engage and possibly lose money, according to Stacy Canan, assistant director for CFPB’s Office of Financial Protection for Older Americans.

They are “ripe for exploitation” because they have substantial assets and might have diminished capacity, Canan said.

Because most older people own their homes, they are sitting on $5.83 trillion in home equity, which is an increasingly attractive target for fraud.

CFPB cautions people to get financial planning advice before choosing a reverse mortgage.  Essentially, you’re borrowing money against the equity in your home. Yes, it can put cash in your pocket – but the fine print could trip you up. And you are still responsible for paying property taxes and homeowners insurance, so the costs could exceed the benefits, Canan said. CFPB offers a two-minute video on reverse mortgages.

The federal agency also offers consumer-friendly tools about auto loans, bank accounts, credit cards, credit reports, debt collection, money transfers, mortgages, payday loans, prepaid cards and student loans. There are also financial literacy guides written for youth and adults.

Got a complaint? CFPB has handled more than 1.1 million complaints about financial products and services since its inception in 2011. This searchable database could be helpful to consumers and reporters alike.

Canan also urged people to study their options for claiming Social Security, which she said “could be the most important financial decision of their lives.” She said 75 percent of people decide to claim Social Security early, which could lead to a lifetime reduction in benefits. CFPB offers an interactive tool to help you visualize your benefits over time.