For some time now, it has been clear that Maine seniors are vulnerable to financial exploitation. But until now, that knowledge has come from the occasional heart-breaking news story about an elderly resident who lost her savings or her house because of misplaced trust.

A report released last week, however, puts the problem in proper perspective, showing just how many seniors are affected and how much money is lost, each time robbing an individual of comfort in their golden years.

The report, commissioned by Legal Services for the Elderly and the Maine Office of Aging and Disability Services, and prepared by University of Southern Maine’s Muskie School of Public Service, provides the first measure of financial exploitation of seniors in Maine. It looks at a total of 664 cases handled by Legal Services for the Elderly, or LSE, and Adult Protection Services, or APS, over six years ending in 2016, with a combined loss of $28 million.

And that’s only reported cases – the real total likely is at least $74 million and as much as $451 million in that time period, depending on the research used to estimate the number of unreported cases.

The report also tells us who is most vulnerable, and who in a senior’s life is most likely to harm them.

Victims are more likely to be older – the average age was 80 in APS cases and 77 in LSE cases. They are more likely to be female than male. The unmarried or widowed are particularly vulnerable, as are seniors living alone or in nursing homes.

Most troubling, the perpetrators are most likely to be the victim’s children – 57 percent of APS cases and 68 percent of LSE cases were perpetrated by family members, the vast majority of them the victim’s child.

The most prevalent forms of exploitation, the study found, include the loss of a house, such as the case of a 75-year-old widow in Penobscot County, one of the case studies in the report.

A family member who agreed to help her arranged to place the deed to the senior’s home in their name, saying it would protect the senior in case she needed long-term care. Instead, the family member evicted her.

In other cases, the robbery is done through a diversion of cash, such as with a 82-year-old veteran in Cumberland County, whose gave his daughter power of attorney only to have her take his savings for her own use.

The first step to fighting this sort of abuse is through public awareness, one of the goals of the report.

The report also calls for new ways to detect and prevent financial exploitation before it occurs – everyone, including advocates, financial advisers, nursing home officials, neighbors and well-intentioned family members should be on the lookout for seniors who are vulnerable, and who may have abusers circling.

The final suggestion of the report is perhaps the most important. Increasing the ability to recover lost personal resources is crucial in a situation involving family members, who can sink in their claws and raid a senior’s finances before anyone has a chance to look.

Financial exploitation of seniors is a problem in Maine, and now we know how large of one. It’s time to act to protect the elderly.