The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is known for its efforts to combat obesity, or Zika, or the H1N1 flu virus. It now is drawing attention to a hazard that doesn’t sound like a disease at all, “senior financial abuse,” Politico reports. The agency is referring to the theft of older people’s resources by someone they trust. Alarmed by the growing cost of the problem and the lack of a clear strategy to combat it, the CDC included in a first-of-its-kind report last year a definition for the financial exploitation of old people. It includes fraud, breach of personal trust, poor investment advice, or improper use of power of attorney. Defining the problem is an important step that the agency hopes will make senior financial abuse more measurable and preventable. No complete data exist, but it’s safe to say financial abuse costs older Americans billions of dollars annually. In New York alone, the state estimated its seniors lost as much as $1.5 billion over 12 months from misappropriation of funds. A 2016 survey from the Investor Protection Trust said almost 1 in 5 seniors, some 7 million Americans, report that they have been victims of exploitation.
Rapidly evolving technology, decreased cognitive capacity and social isolation make older people especially vulnerable to being scammed. And their assets are becoming a bigger and bigger honeypot. The median wealth of families headed by someone at least 62 years of age rose 40 percent from 1989 to 2013, says the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. The growing alarm over financial abuse is colliding with the Trump administration’s push to ease regulations on the banking industry and loosen consumer protections, both of which could disproportionately affect older Americans. In August, the administration proposed to delay key parts of an Obama-era rule that requires financial brokers to put their customers’ interests ahead of their own compensation when offering retirement advice.