As the economy worsens, incidences of financial abuse on the disabled are reportedly on the rise. The disabled are particularly vulnerable to scams or to financial abuse by family members in need of money. A recent study found that up to one million disabled Americans may be targeted yearly. Family members and caregivers are the culprits in 55 percent of cases, although financial losses are higher with investment fraud scams.
While it is impossible to guarantee that an disabled loved one is not the victim of financial abuse, there are some steps you can take to reduce the chances. One option is to have more than one family member involved in caring for the loved one. You can also encourage the disabled person to get involved in community activities to ensure he or she has a wide range of support. Using direct deposit as much as possible is also helpful, especially of their Social Security Disability benefits. And of course you should always screen caregivers carefully and verify references.
Financial abuse can be very difficult to detect. The following are some signs that a loved one may be the victim of this kind of abuse:
The disappearance of valuable objects;
Withdrawals of large amounts of money, checks made out to cash, or low bank balances;
A new “best friend” and isolation from other friends and family;
Large credit card transactions;
Signatures on checks look different;
A name added to a bank account or newly formed joint accounts; and
Indications of fear of caregivers.
If you suspect someone of being financially abused, there are several actions you can take:
Report the crime by calling your local Adult Protective Services and state attorney general’s office.
File a police report.
Explore options at your local court. The court can intervene if someone in the family is misusing a power of attorney or their role as guardian or conservator.
Contact advocacy organizations.
State laws vary, but some may be available to get restitution for breach of fiduciary duties.
Try to get a temporary restraining order from a court while building your case.