About every couple of weeks, the newspaper receives a call, note or news release about a scam that targets the elderly.

The scams run the gamut - phony sweepstakes mailings, phone calls from scammers pretending to be a grandchild needing bail money, e-mail hoaxes with big promises of cash in exchange for personal financial information, unscrupulous contractors trying to hoodwink an older couple, the list goes on.

The scary thing is, they'll probably only get worse as the state's and the county's population continues to age.

The good news: A new form of help is on the way.

Last week, the Minnesota Department of Commerce reported that it's joining an already successful nationwide effort to protect elderly Minnesotans from investment fraud and other financial scams that prey on vulnerable adults.

It's called the Elder Investment Fraud and Financial Exploitation (EIFFE) prevention program. OK, the name isn't catchy but the program is catching on - and helping seniors. It's an unprecedented national effort that educates medical professionals about how to identify senior citizens who may be particularly vulnerable to investment fraud, and then refer those at-risk patients to local Adult Protective Services professionals.

The program faces a big challenge.

"Within this decade, there will be more Minnesotans over the age of 65 than children enrolled in our public schools," noted Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman. "By 2030, one out of every four people in our state will be 65 or older. With our aging population, bad actors will try to exploit vulnerable, aging adults. We recognize that threat. By participating in this proven program, our aim is to prevent financial abuse of senior citizens and provide another layer of consumer protection for vulnerable Minnesotans."

Medical research shows that more than a third of Americans older than 71 have mild cognitive impairment or Alzheimer's disease, making them particularly susceptible to investment scams and other financial abuse.

"We now know that a shockingly large number of older Americans are already victims of financial swindles and millions more are in danger of being exploited in such a fashion," said Don Blandin, president and CEO of the Investor Protection Trust (IPT). "Front-line medical professionals who deal every day with older Americans are ideally positioned to spot the impaired mental capacity that can leave seniors vulnerable to financial abuse. This program seeks to inform doctors, nurses and others about the warning signs of elder investment fraud and financial exploitation."

It's no wonder the newspaper has received so much information about scams. According to the 2010 IPT Elder Fraud Survey, more than seven million older Americans - one out of every five citizens older than 65 - already has been victimized by a financial swindle.

According to the IPT, con artists scam senior citizens out of $2.5 billion every year.

The EIFFE is based on a successful pilot program launched by the state of Texas. It's a collaboration between the Investor Protection Trust, Investor Protection Institute, North American Securities Administrators Association, and National Adult Protective Services Association in cooperation with leading U.S. medical associations, including the American Academy of Family Physicians, American College of Physicians, American Geriatrics Society, National Area Health Education Center Organization and the National Association of Geriatric Education Centers.

With such strong backing, the program is off to a promising start. If it can provide vulnerable senior citizens with an added layer of protection against scammers, it deserves more attention and support.

More information about the program is available online at www.investorprotection.org. You can also watch a short, informative video at: http://tinyurl.com/3zk2hbn.