SPECIAL REPORT: Preventing financial exploitation for vulnerable adults

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) – Financial exploitation of the elderly and disabled is on the rise across the nation. Last year, the state of Virginia worked over 15,000 cases of adult, abuse, neglect or exploitation.

The Department of Adult Protective services says the most vulnerable people include the elderly and people with disabilities or intellectual issues, like Dementia or Alzheimer's. Social workers say family members and financial institutions can both help decrease the number of victims.

Lisa Garofolo adores her 65-year-old dad Frederick Bowen.

"He is my hero. My father has fought all of his life for his independence and he deserves that independence," she said.

A car accident left him brain damaged and disabled. Earlier this year, crooks cashed in on that disability, scamming Bowen out of thousands of dollars.

"This guy came to the house and wanted to do something to the house and like an idiot, I said yes," Bowen said.

Bowen says several men came by his home and offered to fix up the place. The work was never done, and the scammers got away with his money.

"This person actually took him to the bank, drove him there and had him write a check for two thousand dollars, within a period of about two to three weeks, he lost almost four thousand dollars," said Garofolo.

While financial institutions don't have to report suspected financial exploitation, they can -- and the law protects them from liability.

"There is a paper trail, and folks in the financial industry are in a perfect situation to follow that paper trail," said Gail Nardi, with the Department of Social Services.

She says many times, the exploiter is actually a family member. Here are some warning signs: the senior or disabled person suddenly starts writing larges checks, transferring funds, or making unusual transactions.

"The most common single factor in adult abuse is social isolation and all of us can do something about that," Nardi said.

Bowen's family wants him to move in with them, but he's not giving up his independence just yet.

DSS says if you suspect someone is a victim of financial exploitation, you should report it right away.

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