A former boarding house owner in Sacramento had elderly and mentally disabled residents in the 1980s sign sign their Social Security checks over to her. She pocketed more of their money than she was entitled to. Boarders who became difficult were poisoned, police said, and buried in the yard. The Sacramento Bee says that 20 years later, the elderly and others who depend on Social Security still are being bilked by predators who abuse the “representative payee” program, advocates say. California inspections of residential care homes have decreased even as the number of homes has gone up.
Social Security representatives say abuses are rare and that the representative payee program – in which a third party collects and cashes benefit checks for those unable to do so themselves – works well for most people. About one out of every 20 adults who receives Social Security has signed over their finances to a representative payee. Barbara Bailar, who led a three-year congressional committee investigation of Social Security that concluded in 2007, said, “It’s still relatively easy for someone with bad intentions to abuse the system. Too many things can go wrong.”