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Greenwood says fraud committed by strangers such as unlicensed home contractors and phone sweepstakes scammers is bigger than ever.

So are crimes involving people in close contact with seniors.

Such abuse can be financially and emotionally devastating.

And experts say it’s likely to increase because of a stalled economy and an aging population.

Paul Greenwood, a deputy district attorney in San Diego and head of the county’s elder-abuse protection unit, says the office will prosecute about 200 cases this year. Better reporting contributes to that growth, Greenwood says. “As people become more desperate from the economy, they need that extra money,” says Sally Smith, adult protective services case manager supervisor at the Franklin County (Ohio) Office on Aging.

Experts say it’s not only the volume of cases that have swelled but also the variety.

A seminal national study by the Met Life Mature Market Institute found that the cost of such abuses is at least .9 billion a year.

Professional caregivers pose particular risks because of their closeness to the victims and, perhaps, their generally low wages.

We unearthed numerous cases in which health aides, either in the home or in an institution, had taken items, cash, or Social Security checks from their elderly charges, or worse.

Ninety percent of abusers are family members or trusted others.

Of all reported elder-abuse cases, financial exploitation is reported most frequently.

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