By Chris Adams

One of the newest agencies in the federal government has a core mission to monitor one of fastest-growing types of financial fraud: exploitation of older Americans.

In a discussion with the National Press Foundation, the head of the Office for Older Americans of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau described the range of ways that seniors could lose control of their finances – often right at the time they can least afford to do so.

The CFPB is relatively new, begun after the financial crash of 2008-2009, and it has a wealth of tools for consumers, journalists, caregivers and financial advisors. Nora Dowd Eisenhower, who heads the division that focuses specifically on older Americans, said that exploitation isn’t always because of maliciousness.

“It’s the loving caregiver who is maybe not following all the rules,” Eisenhower said. But, she added, “Sometimes it’s somebody who doesn’t mean well.”

It’s important, she said, because “financial capacity” declines for people before other capacities do, with some research suggesting a peak when people are in their 50s.

Although prevalence estimates vary, here’s what the CFPB said it knows about financial abuse:

  • 7 percent of older adults 60-plus living independently report financial exploitation by someone they live or spend time with;
  • 17 percent of seniors 65-plus report being taken advantage of financially;
  • And much of it might be under the radar, as one study found that only one in 44 cases come to attention of protective services agencies or programs for victims.

Eisenhower pointed journalists and consumers to several resources, including:

  • An advisory and a report on financial institutions and how they can prevent elder financial exploitation;
  • A set of guides called “Managing Somebody Else’s Money” that includes many specific to the laws of individual states;
  • A detailed tool to help people plan for retirement and for taking Social Security.