More than 2,500 Palm Beach County children, elderly and disabled residents who depend on a court-appointed guardian to manage their finances may now have additional protection against fraud or misuse of their money.
The county's Clerk of Courts Monday launched the Guardianship Fraud Hotline, where anyone who suspects a guardian is stealing money, misusing assets or overcharging a ward can report it to county officials.
In addition to the hotline, the Clerk of Courts has beefed up its guardianship audits since February, when clerk Sharon Bock hired an auditor to solely look at potential fraud and misuse by guardians. Six additional auditors have also been trained to closely examine guardianship complaints .
"As the economy became more and more of a problem, it became clear that the people who are really very vulnerable were potentially going to fall victim to exploitation," Bock said. The hotline and additional auditors cost the court about $100,000, she said.
While U.S. Census figures point to a future increase of the senior citizen population in Palm Beach County, Bock said it was the ideal time to put in place a system that would guarantee some of the county's most needy residents would be protected.
The hotline, Bock added, will serve "a deterrent effect to the guardians who are under the court watch, so they know that in the event that something goes wrong or in the event that anyone suspects something is going wrong, they will be audited and their information will be examined."
Among the complaints typically handled by auditors include money missing from a person's account and overcharging for legal or clerical fees, said Anthony Palmieri, senior auditor for the clerk's division of the Inspector General's office.
"We are looking with a fine-toothed comb what the guardian is actually doing with the ward's assets," Bock said. "Up until this started there was nothing to turn to."
Guardians Face Audits, Hotline Complaints Under New Palm Beach County Clerk Service
Contact the Guardianship Fraud Hotline