€700m stolen from vulnerable adults each year - often by family members
Hundreds of vulnerable people are being financially abused, typically by close family members.
Many of the victims are vulnerable people living with dementia, other mental health problems and physical or mental health disabilities.
Typically, they are older people who are deceived by a calculating close relative.
The HSE National Safeguarding Committee said figures it had gathered show there were 1,645 cases of alleged financial abuse of the vulnerable between the start of last year and this summer.
There was a 44pc rise in cases in the first half of this year compared with the same period last year.
But it warned that this was likely to be the tip of the iceberg.
More than €700m is being stolen from vulnerable people a year, the chair of the National Safeguarding Committee, Patricia Rickard-Clarke, said.
Reported cases were a fraction of the number of cases of financial abuse.
"Very large amounts of money are involved. The State will pay out €7.2bn to older persons this year. If 10pc is subject to financial abuse, then the scale of the issue becomes clear," she said.
A survey carried out by Red C for the HSE Safeguarding Committee found that half of adults say they have experienced the abuse of vulnerable adults.
This was either because they were abused themselves or saw somebody close to them being abused.
Ms Rickard-Clarke warned that those appointed as agents on behalf of vulnerable people must ensure that all of the person's money is managed directly for their benefit, and for that purpose only. "Family members must have legal authority to access another person's bank account and be able account for how the money is spent. Any other use, without consent, is theft," she said.
A campaign has been launched this week to encourage greater vigilance about the issue among State officials, those working in banks and financial institutions, and nursing home staff.