According to The Special Needs Alliance’s publication, The Voice, financial fraud is on the rise for those individuals with special needs or disabilities. Financial abuse can be devastating to anyone, but individuals with disabilities and elderly individuals are particularly vulnerable. If you have a loved one, you should be aware of the following types of fraud or scams currently on the rise.
Financial Abuse from a Financial Power of Attorney or Conservator
When an individual chooses an agent to serve as their Financial Power of Attorney (POA), they are choosing a person they trust and who they feel will do the right thing with respect to the financial management of their resources.
A person or professional chosen as a conservator is meant to help manage the finances of individuals who lack capacity. Financial POAs and conservators typically take care of financial concerns such as living expenses, transportation, and health care costs.
Unfortunately, POAs or conservators may abuse the financial power they have. In some instances, they have maliciously skimmed money from the person’s account or emptied it completely, sold real estate for their own benefit, or have not paid the individuals medical expenses or housing costs.
Fraud from a Caregiver of a Special Needs Individual
Many families of individuals with disabilities trust professional caregivers or guardians to help with day-to-day living issues. Sadly, some guardians have less than pure intentions and, as is the case with some Financial POAs or conservators, may take advantage.
Families should be particularly careful in selecting a conservator or guardian. The most important aspect to keep in mind is to ensure the guardian or conservator taking care of your loved one has gone through specialized training and understand the legal and fiduciary aspects of the job they are performing.
Online Fraud and Scams Targeting Individuals with Disabilities and Elderly
Anyone is liable to fall victim to online scams, but disabled and elderly individuals are particularly at risk as they may not understand the bad intentions of others. Lonely individuals can be the victims of romantic online schemes such as catfishing, wherein an individual lures someone into a romantic relationship by posing as someone they are not. Many catfishing schemes end with the new love interest asking for financial help from the targeted individual, sometimes through wire transfers or even simple transfers on Venmo or PayPal.
There are many telephone scams, and individuals may be susceptible to believing they need to give over a credit card or banking information if a caller posing as the IRS or FBI threatens them with legal action. Also, email phishing scams can appear very legitimate and trick even the most vigilant individuals into giving away passwords or financial details through online portals or viruses.
Why Individuals with Disabilities and Elderly Individuals are at Greater Risk
One reason individuals with disabilities and elderly individuals are at greater risk is because scammers recognize them as an easy target. Individuals with cognitive impairments may not fully understand what is happening to them when they are being targeted.
Furthermore, they may be less likely to complain about bad treatment, for a number of reasons, including:
- Isolation from loved ones
- The thought no one will believe them
- They do not wish to report people they may love or trust otherwise, or who have manipulated the person into believing something bad will happen to both of them
How You Can Prevent Financial Fraud Against Your Loved Ones
The best thing you can do to detect and prevent fraud is to have open lines of communication with your loved one. Make sure they feel safe to talk to you about any problems they may be experiencing or are willing to tell you about actions others may have taken. If your loved one appears to be more isolated or is quieter than usual, this can be a sign of abuse.
If you can, you should watch out for changes in their financial and physical situation, such as sudden changes to estate documents, unexplained charges on credit cards or other financial accounts, bruises or sores, an unkept or dirty living space. If your loved one suddenly stops paying bills or has notification of unpaid utilities, this may be a red flag their financial caregiver is not doing his/her job. You may also keep an eye on the caregiver to see if they suddenly have high-priced items they could not previously afford.
What to Do if You Suspect Abuse
It is important to know who to call if you suspect financial or physical abuse. If the individual lives in a licensed or certified facility funded by the Department of Human Services or Medicaid, you need to contact the Office of the Inspector General. You may also contact the Long-Term Care Ombudsman. If the victim lives alone or with family, you can contact Adult Protective Services or you can obtain a protective order through the court system. If abuse happens in a hospital or health care setting, you should report it to the Department of Public Health.
If you need help setting up a conservatorship or guardianship for your loved one, or would like to consult an attorney regarding your elderly loved one call an elder law attorney or contact our office, Pregenzer, Baysinger, Wideman & Sale at 505-872-0505.