Thieves and even family members are increasingly targeting senior citizens.

It’s the same old story.

Senior citizens have long been victims of financial schemes, from both clever crooks and greedy family members. Now a new study says it’s getting worse. Here are the depressing details, followed by some positive steps you can take to keep this from happening to you or a loved one.

“Worse than previously thought”

When the Allianz life insurance company first polled families in 2014, 30 percent had “reported knowing an elder who experienced financial abuse.” This year, it jumped to 37 percent.

If you’re wondering what that abuse looks like, it sadly takes many forms…

  • Telemarketing schemes aimed at older people to convince them to buy items they don’t need or don’t even exist.
  • Befriending older people to steal their identities and then their life savings.
  • Outright theft of money from a home or bank account.
  • Forging an older person’s signature on financial or legal documents.
  • Manipulating an older person into signing a will or a deed or power of attorney.
  • Not getting permission to use an older person’s property or possessions and doing so without their knowledge.

Not only is this abuse happening more often, it’s costing the elderly more money. Allianz estimates the “average financial loss to victims” at $36,000. That’s $7,200 more than in 2014, the last time the company studied the issue.

That’s not the end of the bad news, either.

“Only one in 44 cases of financial abuse is ever reported,” says the National Adult Protective Services Association. Yet “1 in 20 older adults indicating some form of perceived financial mistreatment occurring in the recent past.”

What you can do

Like almost everything in life, prevention is easier and cheaper than cures. If you have an older relative or friend, the best thing you can do is check up on them. Here are some simple warning signs that could point to bigger problems to come…

  • Are valued possessions missing? If the older person doesn’t know where they went, question those who have access to the home.
  • Are there unpaid bills? If someone else is supposed to make those payments, ask them what’s going on.
  • Are bank statements no longer coming to the home? If so, who changed that and why?
  • Are there more withdrawals or transfers than usual? Once you get access to those bank statements, make sure the usual pattern of spending hasn’t changed.

If you suspect something unseemly is happening, check out the U.S. Department of Justice’s special Elder Justice Initiative. The website can even help you report elder abuse.

If we all work together, we can change this same old story.

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Article last modified on April 28, 2017. Published by Debt.com, LLC .