Recognizing the Signs of Financial Exploitation
It's unfortunate that there are people out there who see the vulnerability of a disabled or elderly person as an opportunity, but financial exploitation is a crime occurs too often in our society. Even worse, it's common for the shyster to be a close family member or caretaker of the victim. Typically, family and loved ones find out about the misconduct too late to take action: The damage is done and the elderly or disabled person has lost money, real estate, personal property, and - perhaps most importantly - dignity. Still, there are ways to spot the signs of financial exploitation, so your disabled or elderly loved one doesn't become a victim.
Unexpected Changes to Bank Accounts or Habits
Some of the more obvious signs of issues are withdrawals of cash or checks written out to questionable individuals, but even banking habits can reveal financial exploitation. If the elderly or disabled person doesn't normally use an ATM, this should raise a red flag. Also, check to see if there have been any changes in beneficiary designation or joint owners on accounts, which would hand over the proceeds to a perpetrator upon the death of your loved one.
Disappearance of Personal Property
If the elderly or disabled person in question has personal property of considerable value, note the disappearance of any items. A scammer may steal electronics, jewelry, tools, artwork, collections, and other belongings without the victim noticing.
Altering Provisions of Estate Plan
A financial exploiter may convince a vulnerable person to change various estate planning documents, or even threaten him or her to do so. The will is a common target for perpetrators who seek to inherit assets upon the testator's death, but there are many other documents involved with an estate plan. Offenders often change a power of attorney over financial matters, and appoint themselves as agents with control over real and personal property.
Shortcomings Despite Plentiful Funds
If the elderly or disabled person suddenly doesn't have the funds to cover basic needs - when he or she has never had difficulties before - this can be a sign of financial exploitation. For instance, if you discover phone service or utilities have been cut off for non-payment, that could indicate someone else is collecting that money. Another clue would be if bill collectors are contacting your loved one or a bank is threatening foreclosure.
It's possible to stop financial exploitation if you keep a vigilant eye out and detect the common signs of financial abuse. If you believe a disabled or elderly person has been the victim of these types of misconduct you should report it immediately. Plus, you should consult with a lawyer that has extensive experience in disabled or elderly law about your options. The attorneys at the Nawrocki Center for Elder Law, Special Needs & Disability Planning can assist you on what to do in the aftermath, as well as provide information on how to ensure financial exploitation doesn't occur in the first place. Please contact our office for more information or with questions.