As if it weren't already enough of a challenge to prepare investors for retirement. Besides the main worry of getting investors to save enough to live a dignified life in their senior years, there are growing concerns over longevity risk, rising healthcare costs and the ravages of inflation.

Now asset managers can add elder abuse to the list.

Each year, 21 million seniors are mistreated financially, physically and psychologically, according to the American Psychological Association. With approximately 39 million people age 65 or older in the U.S., this is a disquieting and prevalent reality.

Elder financial abuse cost older Americans $2.9 billion in 2010, according to "The MetLife Study of Elder Financial Abuse." This is up 12% from the $2.6 billion stolen from the elderly in 2008.

Veteran actor Mickey Rooney put a personal face on the issue when he testified before Congress on how he and his wife were mistreated by his stepson. "I felt trapped, scared, used and frustrated," said the 90-year-old, who said he was left hungry and without medicine.

While MetLife estimates that 34% of financial elder abuse is perpetrated by family, friends and neighbors, the far more prevalent kind is strangers, who are responsible for 51% of reported cases. In fact, robberies and crimes classified as scams perpetrated by strangers increased from 9% in 2008 to a startling 28% in 2010.

MetLife also discovered that women are nearly twice as likely to be victims of elder financial abuse as men.

Most victims were between the ages of 80 and 89, live alone and require some help with healthcare or home maintenance.

Nearly 60% of perpetrators were males, primarily between the ages of 30 and 59.

Most of the thefts, fraud or manipulation occurred during the holidays, when victims are most vulnerable. In the most common scenarios, strangers targeted victims when they were out shopping, driving or managing financial affairs. Often, they look for flags of vulnerability such as handicap tags on cars or walking canes.

As Sandra Timmermann, director of the MetLife Mature Market Institute, put it, these cases "dehumanize" the elderly.

With 70 million Baby Boomers set to retire, the industry can add raising awareness about this despicable abuse to its list of responsibilities.

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