What do you do when an heirloom bracelet goes missing? How about when a bank account starts to inexplicably bleed cash? If you talk to anyone who’s hired someone to help care for an elderly loved one, theft is a big worry.
Your loved one is probably the most vulnerable when you bring a paid caregiver into the home. So it makes sense to be on extra guard against theft. Here are five warning signs that the caregiver is on the take:
- Groceries and Drug Store Bills Increase. If grocery shopping and normal errands are among the caregiver’s responsibilities, it’s pretty easy for a personal item or two to make it onto your loved one’s credit card. The same holds true when going out to eat. Don’t let even the smallest transactions pass without scrutiny, as the caregiver may be testing the waters to see what he or she can get away with. If you find something unusual, confront the caregiver with the evidence in a gentle manner, so as to limit the damage if it wasn’t something out of the ordinary. If you hired a caregiver through an agency, report any problems with that agency as soon as possible. Another good idea is to replace credit cards with debit cards for common transactions, while maintaining low balances in the debit card account to limit the damage should fraud occur.
- Frequent Cell Phone Use. If a caregiver is constantly on the phone, this could mean that he or she is not giving the requisite time to your loved one, or worse, planning with others how to steal from your loved one. Always run a background check on a caregiver before he or she is employed. Next, make sure that your family member’s finances, such as credit cards, bank and brokerage accounts are removed from the home and placed in the care of a trusted family member.
- Getting Too Personal. Some thieves will plan a scam to “prime the pump” by seducing the elderly with lots of affection until she or he becomes emotionally dependent upon the caregiver. The elderly person will try to reciprocate the affection by giving expensive gifts, or worse, paying for the caregiver’s expenses like rent and food. Here it is important to ensure that your loved one has daily interactions with people who are not their caregivers. It is also a good idea to transfer bank accounts to those who hold a durable power of attorney or who act as a trustee to a trust.
- Bids for Sympathy. The “getting too personal” phase may quickly rise into the “bids for sympathy” phase. The caregiver may concoct stories of the caregiver’s own family members who are in dire need of medical care, but do not have the resources to pay for that care. By planting the seed they hope that the elderly person under their care will offer money to help. It’s always a good idea to put every caregiver through a thorough background check to ensure that they don’t have any prior records, including allegations of fraud.
- Missing work on Mondays. It could be a bad sign when a caregiver is AWOL on Mondays, even if he or she is responsible throughout the rest of the week. Monday absenteeism could be a warning sign of alcoholism or substance abuse. The caregiver may have gone out over the weekend and therefore is in too bad of shape to make it in on Monday. Checking your loved one’s liquor cabinet may be a good idea when you suspect that a caregiver to be suffering from dependency problems. Note the level of liquid in the bottles, and you may even go so far as to sample the contents to make sure that they weren’t replaced with water. If the caregiver has a few unexcused absences, that’s the time to discuss your concerns with the agency that you went through to hire them.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure when dealing with in-home caregivers. Too much can happen in such an unsupervised setting. Take all the necessary precautions by removing valuables, financial records and bank accounts, including checking accounts when hiring in-home care.
The Sheppard Law Firm is located in Fort Myers and Naples by appointment.
© 2018 Craig R. Hersch. Originally published in the Sanibel Island Sun.