It happens too often: An elderly person is financially preyed upon by a con artist, a relative or close friend.

But all the headlines that tell about such crimes should not make people numb to it. Instead, it should spark outrage and spur action and awareness. It starts with reporting any suspected financial abuse and exploitation of the elderly.

“Elder abuse comes in many forms, including physical maltreatment and neglect,” said Minnesota Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman. “But financial exploitation is considered the most common form of elder abuse, costing victims at least $2.9 billion annually. With a growing senior population and the aging of the baby boom generation, it’s become a leading crime of opportunity in the 21st century.”

Rothman said that seniors have become a prime target for crooks because they control an estimated 70 percent of the nation’s wealth. Age-related factors such as illnesses and cognitive impairment can make many older adults especially vulnerable to financial crimes and scams.

The commerce department has stepped up its efforts to protect Minnesota seniors from financial fraud and abuse. But it can’t address this pressing problem on its own. It needs the public’s help in bringing cases of suspected elder abuse to light.

“While one of the best lines of defense is prevention through education, a continuing challenge is that elder financial abuse is a crime that often goes unreported,” said Rothman. “Greater public awareness is needed to identify these crimes early on and help victims before they lose their hard-earned life savings.”

Rothman highlighted some possible warning signs of financial abuse of older adults:

• Unusual financial transactions that are inconsistent with past behavior.

• Uncharacteristic attempts to wire large sums of money.

• Unusual inability to pay for routine services like utilities or insurance.

• Closing of CDs or financial accounts without regard to penalties or fees.

• Large or frequent financial withdrawals, including maximum cash withdrawals from ATMs.

• A sudden change in the management of the older adult’s finances.

Rothman said that when these red flags show up, it may be a sign that someone is being victimized and it should be reported.

Douglas County area residents can report suspected elder financial fraud to the Commerce Department at 1-800-657-3602.

Minnesotans can also report suspected elder abuse, such as physical maltreatment or neglect, to their county’s designated Common Entry Point. To find a county’s Common Entry Point, people can call the Senior LinkAge Line at 1-800-333-2433.