Financial security is virtually impossible without financial literacy. But for seniors who grew up in an age before Internet banking, ATMs and highly sophisticated fraud schemes, financial literacy may be difficult to achieve.

Several programs exist to help seniors become better-informed about managing their finances, but they are often under-funded and difficult to access.  To improve the financial literacy of seniors, and especially to help them avoid falling prey to criminal financial predators, I have introduced The Retirement Security Education Act (H.R. 531).  This legislation will dedicate $100 million in funding to programs designed to promote knowledge of financial and retirement issues and to reduce abuse and fraud.

Toward that end, I recently joined with former NBC White House Correspondent John Palmer, financial leaders and senior advocates to lead a public forum at the Striar Jewish Community Center in Stoughton – that will be broadcast nationwide on Retirement Living TV – to discuss The Retirement Security Education Act and the financial challenges that seniors today face. The bill would provide critical financial support for area agencies on aging and non-profit organizations that focus on retirement security. Those organizations would use the funding to create and expand consumer awareness and education programs for seniors across the country.

Every day, seniors in our area face fraud, including telemarketing, sweepstakes promotions, health-related services, foreign money orders and risky loans.  These schemes are perpetrated by individuals seeking to steal from unsuspecting seniors who do not have the resources or knowledge to defend themselves. Many local organizations, like South Shore Elder Services, have a proven track record of success in educating consumers and seniors about scams and the steps they can take in the event that they are targeted for fraud.  We need more federal funding both to expand successful programs like those and to create new ones, so that they can reach out to seniors throughout Massachusetts and across the country.  That is the principle idea behind the Retirement Security Education Act.

The problems seniors face in avoiding these financial pitfalls are numerous. Low levels of savings, combined with high levels of personal debt, are serious issues for far too many Americans nearing retirement. In fact, the Congressional Budget Office reports that a quarter of baby boomer households have so far failed to accumulate enough savings for the future.

Because women have longer life expectancies, the number of low-income older women is more than twice the number of low-income older men. Studies show a gender gap in all sources of retirement income, and for many of these women, they are dealing with personal financial issues for the first time, or maybe the first time in a long time, making them even more vulnerable to scams.

The number of seniors facing these issues will only grow in the years to come. Over the next 30 years, the number of older Americans is expected to double to almost 75 million. And, over the next 25 years, the number of Americans over 65 years of age requiring long-term care services will double to approximately 12 million. That means seniors need to be even more vigilant about how they are protecting their pensions, retirement savings, and social security payments.

Finally, telemarketing schemes, predatory lending practices, Internet fraud, and especially identity theft have risen dramatically in the Internet age. It is not hard to deduce who the victims of these frauds tend to be – America’s seniors.

The Retirement Security Education Act is an important, immediate step we can take in the long march to ensure that older Americans are protected from financial fraud.

Today is national "Financial Literacy Day.”  Stephen F. Lynch is the Congressman from the 9th Congressional District of Massachusetts and the author of the Retirement Security Education Act.