Fraudsters are increasingly trying to take financial advantage of the elderly, according to the U.S. Treasury Department, even as more protective measures are taken to protect seniors.

The Treasury Department said it received 24,454 reports from banks of suspected financial abuse of their elderly clients last year, double the number received five years ago and a 12% increase for the year. Banks are required to report suspected financial abuse.

The dramatic increase is probably attributable to both a rise in the number of scams and an increase in awareness and reporting, said Brie Williams, head of practice management at State Street Global Advisors, based in Boston.

“There is a louder voice in the media now about protecting the most vulnerable citizens,” Williams said. Federal and state legislation and regulations are being passed to help protect seniors from fraud and protect advisors and financial institutions from lawsuits if they report suspected financial abuse, she added.

The Government Accountability Office said seniors lose an estimated $2.9 billion annually from financial fraud. But the actual number is probably higher because fraud is an underreported crime—some victims don’t report it because they are embarrassed to have been a victim.

“As the population transfers from the workforce to retirement, too often elder investors are taken advantage of,” Williams said. “They are in a more vulnerable situation and may experience diminished capacities,” which increase the possibility of fraud. “But this is an opportunity for advisors to be more proactive.”

The Senior Safe Act passed last summer prevents advisors and financial institutions from being held liable for reporting suspected financial abuse to law enforcement or regulatory agencies. The new law also encourages firms and institutions to provide training for employees in how to spot financial abuse and what to do when they have suspicions. Many banks now have training courses and videos for employees to raise awareness.

In February, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority adopted two new regulations that address the senior fraud issue.

Rule 2165 allows banks to place a temporary hold on disbursements from accounts if an employee suspects the account holder is being duped. Rule 4512 requires advisory firms and banks to make a reasonable effort to obtain the name of and contact information for a trusted contact of clients.

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