Iowa has one of the nation’s oldest populations and the elderly face increasing threats from crooks — who sometimes turn out to be people they trusted. This is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day.

Amy Ouphachack is an elder rights specialist with the Elderbridge Agency on Aging, based in Fort Dodge. “We work with local law enforcement and DHS in serving those who have been referred to our program either through financial exploitation, self neglect or abuse in general,” Ouphachack says.

Each year, as many as five-million older Americans are abused, neglected or exploited. They lose $2.5 billion — or more — each year, money that could be used to pay for housing, food and medical care. It’s estimated only one in five of these crimes are discovered.

Through the Elder Rights Program, Ouphachack handles cases around central Iowa. “The program is voluntary so we generally go in with a soft approach and explain why we’re there and what we can do to help them,” she says. “We keep in contact with the local law enforcement and DHS. We get a lot of referrals from them as well.”

Ouphachack says these cases can happen anywhere, from an individual’s own home to a nursing home to a church. “A recent case I did a consult on was from Rippey where she was power of attorney for her mother,” she says. “She noticed her mother wrote a check for $25,000 to a man at church and couldn’t explain what it was for.”

Proclamations on Elder Abuse Awareness Day will be signed by the mayors in several Iowa communities today, including Fort Dodge, Carroll and Spencer.

(Pat Powers, KQWC, Webster City contributed to this report.)