The wrongful detention of a loved one can have a significant impact on the legal and financial situation of a family, especially if the detainee provides the primary source of income or is an adult child who has their own financial obligations. Families of adult children where there is no spouse may be concerned about protecting the assets and covering the financial liabilities of the detainee while they are unable to do so. There are a variety of issues to consider, but there are also sources of information and support to help you cope.
- The U.S. government does not charge for its services in helping secure the release of your loved one from a wrongful detention.
- You may want to designate one member of your family to act as a primary point of contact for interactions with the government and others working on the release of your loved one. This can be any family member, but it is commonly the detainee’s next of kin.
- You may want to keep a phone log to make a record of calls.
- Determine whether your loved one left instructions for handling his or her finances and other important matters while away or in the event that he or she is not able to manage their affairs for a length of time. More information can be found later in this chapter.
- Pace yourself, as we do not know how long your loved one will be detained.
Protecting Virtual Identity
It is commonplace today to use the internet and cloud storage as well as cell phones and other devices to facilitate nearly every aspect of life, from communicating through and browsing social media sites to taking, storing, and sharing pictures, to using search engines, to shopping or managing finances. As a result, tremendous amounts of information are stored online to include on social media sites and on our phones and other devices. Access to this data is sought for both good and nefarious reasons. Actors seeking this information can include those wrongfully detaining your loved one, identity thieves, and even well-intentioned members of the media.
You may need to consider the following:
- What types of devices (phones, lap- tops, iPads, hard drives, thumb drives, global positioning system [GPS] devices, etc.) does your loved one have?
- What are their email addresses, social media sites or handles, and digital storage sites?
- Who are their internet and cell phone providers?
- Do they have any on-line banking or credit card accounts?
Those wrongfully detaining your loved one may try to exploit devices and the information stored on them. Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn profiles may contain information that could be harmful to the detainee, such as past military service, religious affiliation, or personal commentary that could be misinterpreted or exploited by their captors.
Families of detainees want to protect their loved one’s on-line identity and information. It will be very difficult for families to reset privacy settings on their loved one’s social media sites unless you have contact with them, they left information on their accounts and passwords, or they otherwise designated another individual to manage their devices and social media sites. Family members may want to consider closing or restricting access to their own social media sites as these sites may also contain information that could be exploited by those detaining your loved one and unscrupulous individuals who may seek to exploit your family’s situation. Families have also been the victims of cyber harassment. Let your Family Engagement Team know if this happens to you.
It is natural for families to seek information on the Internet and social media for any news about the detainee and the circumstances of their arrest, trials, and imprisonment. Oftentimes this information is inaccurate, misleading, and/or distressing. It may help to limit your time on the Internet and social media and give yourself a break when you need it.
Power of Attorney
Your primary consideration will likely be whether or not your loved one provided a power of attorney to a family member or another individual. A power of attorney is a legal document that gives another person authority to act as their legal representative and to make binding legal and financial decisions on their behalf when they are unable to manage their own affairs due to illness or absence. There are different types of power of attorney. A limited power of attorney is temporary and is used most often when an individual is leaving the country for an extended period of time and wants to give his or her spouse or some other person authority to sign documents on their behalf while they are away. Please be aware that some financial institutions or government entities (i.e., the IRS) have particular requirements for a power of attorney.
With or without a power of attorney, you may need to get proper legal advice. If you do not have access to an attorney, non-profit organizations that support families of hostages, law societies, and bar associations can advise you on where to look for low-cost or free legal assistance. If you are having trouble, please contact your Family Engagement Team, and we will try to provide you with information about additional resources.
If your loved one is an adult, U.S. financial institutions have the obligation to protect their customer. If there are situations where you think it is necessary to have access to his or her assets and information, and your loved one did not leave a power or attorney prior to being imprisoned, you may need to consult with an attorney to discuss conservatorship. A conservator receives the court-ordered and supervised ability to manage your loved one’s affairs while they are unable to do so. The conservatorship process will vary by state, and you may wish to consult a local attorney in that state for further information.
All court proceedings are a matter of public record and could include publication of your loved one’s financial assets. Publishing information about your loved one’s assets could be detrimental to efforts to obtain his or her release. You may need to provide the judge with information about your loved one’s inability to manage their affairs from detention. Your Family Engagement Team can provide documentation to you for that purpose.
If your loved one was employed at the time of their detention, you need to know if your loved one will continue to get paid. If yes, for how long? If you are the spouse and entitled to health insurance, does that continue, and for how long?
The answers will help you be aware of and be prepared to manage your finances throughout the event, so you may need to consider reaching out to your loved one’s employer. If you are employed, you may need time away from work either due to emotional stress, or if you need to attend meetings or to work with the U.S. government team toward getting your loved one home safely. If you decide that you are comfortable sharing information with your employer, your Family Engagement Team can provide documentation to your employer noting that you are assisting with U.S. government efforts. We are flexible and we will try to accommodate your work schedule to the greatest extent possible.
If information on your loved one’s bank accounts, creditors, and sources of income is available, it is important to gather it together so you can act to protect your loved one’s assets and creditworthiness. Some creditors are willing to freeze the accounts, therefore preventing interest fees, late fees, and the account holder being sent to the collection process. If these companies require proof, your Family Engagement Team can provide documentation of your loved one’s wrongful detention.
Whether you are concerned about protecting your loved one’s finances or about managing your own during this crisis, you may find it helpful to seek advice from a certified financial planner or accountant in your area. Some individuals and firms are willing to provide services on a pro bono or adjustable fee basis. Some non-governmental organizations can also connect you to these services. Most states have associations of certified financial planners and can provide referrals to several individuals or offices in your area. If you are unsuccessful locating someone our Family Engagement Team may be able to assist you in identifying other potential resources.
Your Family Engagement Team can help you identify some ways to engage with the IRS during this time. They may refer you to others who can assist and can provide documentation to help the IRS and other financial entities understand your loved one’s unique situation.
Avoidance of Fraud and Exploitation
Wrongful detainees and their families may be at higher risk for identity theft and exploitation because of their public profile. Immediately inform your Family Engagement Team if you suspect that someone is trying to steal or fraudulently use your or your loved one’s information. It may also be helpful to sign up with a company that specializes in monitoring personal and financial information, as they will alert you if they find something suspicious.
The following resources may be helpful to you:
- Federal Trade Commission Identity Theft Hotline: 1-877-438-4338 or
- Social Security Administration Fraud Hotline (to report theft or fraudulent use of your Social Security Number): 1-800-269-0271;
- U.S. Postal Inspection Service (for identity theft that involves the US mail): 1-800-275-8777
- National Credit Reporting – Reporting credit card theft or fraudulent misuse:
· Equifax: 1-800-525-6285; www.equifax.com
· Experian: 1-888-397-3742; www.experian.com,
· Trans Union: 1-800-680-7289;
- National Crime Victim Bar Association (For information regarding filing civil lawsuits against a perpetrator or other responsible party, and help locating attorneys specializing in victim related litigation): 1-202-467-8753 or
It is helpful to locate information about your loved one’s financial accounts and to whom they would be making payments. In general, this includes banking and credit card accounts, investments, loans, insurance policies, employment documents, and tax records. It is important to include any accounts originating in foreign countries. Please see the Actions to Consider section at the end of the document for a more detailed list.
What important documents and records does your loved one have? Where do they keep them? There are some documents that might seem unimportant, but in a time of crisis can be critical. These could include identity records, civil records like birth and marriage certificates, legal records like wills or powers or attorney, licenses, and military or employment records. Please see the Actions to Consider section for a more detailed list.
Financial stressors are serious concerns for families of those wrongfully detained. Please see our Resources section for more information on potential support and services to help your family.