When you first hired your senior parent or loved one’s caregiver, you were positive they were the right person for the job. Since then, things have changed and you’re no longer sure how you feel. You even think they may be stealing from you or your senior. How can you be sure?
Here are some signs a caregiver is stealing from you:
- Items randomly go missing
- Isolating the senior
- Caregiver got too personal too fast
- Increase in bills
- Asks to see financial accounts and records
- A gut feeling
It’s an unfortunate situation when a caregiver steals, but it’s not one that you can afford to ignore because older people are prime targets for identity theft and other types of abuse.
In this article, I’ll go over some indicators that a caregiver may be stealing from you or an older person or dependent adult, discuss how to catch them, and then talk about the important steps to take from there.
Do Caregivers Steal?
We all like to think we’re excellent judges of character.
When interviewing for a new caregiver for your senior parent or loved one, I’m sure you asked an extensive list of questions, and maybe even requested a second interview just to be doubly sure.
Even still, caregivers steal, and yours could as well.
Is caregiver theft likely?
According to the AARP, “A 2019 review by the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau of suspicious activity reports filed by financial institutions found that one in nine incidents of elder financial exploitation where the target knew the perpetrator were committed by nonfamily caregivers. The average loss in such cases was $57,800.”
That’s something you need to be aware of when interviewing and ultimately hiring a caregiver.
So why would a caregiver steal from a vulnerable adult?
Well, I would never pretend to understand their motivations, but there are some reasons that seem quite apparent.
For instance, maybe they feel they’re not being paid enough. ZipRecruiter states that the national average for a caregiver is $14 an hour.
For the difficult work and the long, grueling hours a paid caregiver puts into their job, that pay isn’t exactly commensurate with their responsibilities.
They could steal from their patients, as well as their patient’s adult children or family members (such as yourself), to even the playing field, so to speak.
Other caregivers may find themselves in a situation that is too tantalizing to resist, especially if the elderly person they’re caring for is very well-off.
This includes family members!
In fact, the National Council On Aging reports that, “In almost 60% of elder abuse and neglect incidents, the perpetrator is a family member. Two thirds of perpetrators are adult children or spouses.”
Caregiver fraud could also happen due to the caregiver’s substance abuse or any number of other reasons.
Because, let’s face it – some caregivers are genuinely not good people. That’s sad to say, but those who get into the job under false pretenses just to steal have no one’s best intentions at heart besides their own.
How Do You Trust A Caregiver?
You might think that the best way to prevent elder financial abuse is to hire a caregiver from a reputable agency, but you’d probably be wrong.
When my mom needed in home help at the end of her life, we called an agency with a national reputation. They were bonded and insured, so we were lucky with the people they sent to us, but many people aren’t.
In 2012, research from Northwestern Medicine reported that, “A troubling new national study finds many agencies recruit random strangers off Craigslist and place them in the homes of vulnerable elderly people with dementia, don’t do national criminal background checks or drug testing, lie about testing the qualifications of caregivers, and don’t require any experience or provide real training.”
In 2019, the Fairbault Daily News ran a story on a researcher from the University of Minnesota School of Nursing who looked into theft at assisted living facilities in Minnesota.
He “examined confirmed reports of theft between March 2013 and August 2018. He found 116 residents were victims of theft and $1,130 was the average amount lost by the 104 residents who provided that information to investigators.”
Clearly, maintaining a healthy dose of suspicion about your caregiver is never a bad thing, as it ensures you don’t get complacent. For the most part, however, you do want to trust the person you’ve hired to provide in-home care.
How do you do that? Here are some tips to help you gain some peace of mind.
Do Personal Background Checks
First – don’t try to find an independent caregiver by simply putting an ad up on Craigslist or a job board. Hire from a bonded and insured agency – that you have thoroughly vetted.
Trust me, I asked the company I wanted to hire from a million questions before I was satisfied.
You’ll want to know things like the process the company follows when hiring its caregivers, does it do drug screenings and background check on its caregivers, and how long has it been in business. Also, get references and call those people!
Maybe you’re considering an independent caregiver (not one from a home care company) that worked for a friend or an acquaintance.
If so, do a criminal background check on the candidate(s) you are interested in and get plenty of references from past employers (and follow up with a phone call to each of these people!).
Lock Up Personal Information Or Remove It From The Home Entirely
When we hired our caregivers, I went through my parent’s home and removed everything I could think of that might be worth stealing.
This included things like Mom’s good jewelry, their financial information, the social security number for both my parents, their bank account statements and all their credit cards and debit cards, except one for my dad to use for necessities.
If possible it’s also a good idea to keep an eye on your elder’s finances by checking their bank accounts and credit card statements for unusual activity. Dad and I went over these together monthly.
If the caregiver is going to be responsible for purchasing items (bad idea!), such as groceries, give them a prepaid debit card. That way, they can’t steal any more than the amount on the card.
Take It Slow
Although you might want to trust your senior parent or loved one’s caretaker from day one, it’s okay if you don’t. Personally, I tend to be highly suspicious until I’m proven wrong. Remember, trust is earned, not given.
You should not expect to feel comfortable around this person for a while and be patient with the process in the mean time.
That said, if it’s been several months and the caregiver has given you no reason to suspect them, then it might be okay to let your guard down slightly and begin to trust them.
Get To Know The Caregiver As A Person
Although in your role, you primarily see the caregiver as, well, a caregiver, you have to keep in mind that that’s only one small part of them.
It’s the same for anyone. Even though we spend so many hours per day and per week at our jobs, we are all more than our jobs.
By taking the time to get to know the caretaker on a personal level, you might find it easier to trust them.
I’m not saying you need to be best friends or anything of the sort. You two don’t even have to be friends at all, just merely friendly.
You needn’t ask invasive personal questions, but just surface-level ones.
What does the caretaker like to do in their spare time? Do they live alone or with a spouse or partner? Any kids or pets? These are the kinds of questions to focus on.
I can’t stress enough the importance of communication when it comes to building trust with a caretaker.
You need to be able to talk to them about all elements of how they’re caring for your senior parent or loved one, including the good ones and the not-so-good ones.
You can’t gloss over the bad parts of what the caretaker is doing, as that makes it more difficult to talk about other bad things later.
Plus, when you let issues fester, they usually bubble up into something far larger than they would have if you had just spoken about them when the problem first arose.
How Do You Know If A Caregiver Is Stealing?
Despite your thorough investigations before hiring them, you have a bad feeling that your senior’s caregiver is stealing from them or you. Here are some red flags that may indicate that is indeed what is happening.
1. Items Are Randomly Going Missing
The caregiver is likely is in your senior parent or loved one’s home every single day. You’re also there often enough that you know what is there.
Have you noticed that items have disappeared? Perhaps you ask your senior about the location of these items, and they’re not sure where the item went either.
Unless your senior parent or loved one has dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, there’s no reason for them not to trust their own memory.
Even if the items that go missing at first are small, don’t discount it. The caregiver could be testing the waters by taking small items to see if anyone notices.
Then they’ll work their way up to larger and/or more valuable items.
2. Isolating The Senior From Their Loved Ones
One huge red flag is if your loved one isn’t talking directly to you as often as they once did.
Maybe 9 times out of 10 when you call now, the caregiver says your senior is sleeping. Maybe you make dates for lunch or to drop by for the afternoon, but the caregiver calls at the last moment and says your loved one is feeling too tired to see you and they asked the caregiver to call and cancel.
Maybe when you drop by unannounced, the caregiver answers the door and tells you your loved one is taking a nap.
If this happens more often than not, they may be trying to control your senior.
3. The Caregiver Has Gotten Too Personal Too Fast
Does your elderly adult tell you story after personal story about the caregiver?
Has the caregiver become the senior’s best friend overnight? Are they suddenly increasing the level of their care by paying the senior more attention?
What could be happening in a situation like this is that the caregiver is trying to make your senior parent or loved one emotionally dependent on them.
The goal is to get the senior to try to repay this favor by giving the caregiver money or gifts or even paying for their expenses.
A few well-placed sob stories can do the trick, as well, because people naturally want to help those they feel close to.
Although the following wasn’t a caregiver situation, it’s a good illustration of what I mean by getting personal with the intention of getting someone to give you money.
My former in-laws loved a certain family diner and went there every Saturday for breakfast. One of the new servers quickly became their favorite.
After a couple of visits, the server began telling them about her car troubles. Every time they went into the restaurant, something new was wrong with her car. Oh, if only she had the money for a newer model!
So one day, my father in law walked in and handed her $5,000.
Without asking my mom in law.
He enjoyed helping people he liked, so he simply handed over the money. I was horrified, but he was adamant that she was a wonderful person who was simply down on her luck and needed his help (never mind that my inlaws didn’t have much money themselves).
You can guess what happened next. The server abruptly quit her job (family troubles, she said) and that was that.
I’m sure she moved on to greener pastures and another restaurant with a kind “regular” she could fleece.
4. The Bills Are Going Up
You know how much your senior’s bills used to cost. They’ve gradually fluctuated here and there but have remained otherwise consistent.
Well, until this caretaker came into the picture, that is.
Since then, grocery bills, medication bills, and all other nature of bills have gone up and up and up.
Or have they? The caretaker could be lying to you and pocketing the difference. This is a good way to steal from you or the senior without really doing it.
5. The Caregiver Asks To See Financial Accounts And Records Or Holds Them Out Of The Mail (Or Is Handling Some Of The Finances)
A caregiver has a lot of job responsibilities, but none of them entail reviewing a senior’s financial records or accounts. Or making withdrawals on behalf of the senior
If a caregiver asks to see these documents, that’s about the biggest red flag there is that this person is likely going to steal from your senior or perhaps already is.
They also shouldn’t be keeping bank statements and other financial mail away from the senior. If your senior can’t remember the last time they saw their bank statements, it’s a red flag.
Another huge warning is if the caregiver is paying bills for the senior, using the senior’s checkbook (or purchasing items for the senior by using the senior’s credit cards). They now have access to the finances and this almost never turns out well for the senior.
6. You Have A Gut Feeling
Your intuition is a powerful thing and is not to be discounted. If you have a bad feeling that something is wrong or off, then you should trust your gut and investigate the matter further.
How To Catch A Caregiver Stealing
If you can’t shake the sneaking suspicion that your senior’s caregiver is stealing, you need to be sure. Here are some tactics that will allow you to be.
Install Security Cameras
You’re going to have to spend a bit of money for this first method, but in the long run, it could be worth it.
If you don’t already have video monitoring systems set up in your senior’s home, you might think about installing a few video cameras, focusing on the areas that you know the caregiver likes to frequent.
Then confirm that you can see the footage on your end, either through an app or a direct feed.
Now you just have to wait.
If the caregiver is indeed stealing, then it’s only a matter of time before you’ll catch them in the act.
*IMPORTANT: Each state has laws about the use of security cameras used to supervise people working in someone’s home, so be sure to research and follow your state laws before taking this step!
Set Up A Trap
You can also try to bait the caregiver.
For instance, maybe you get your loved one to talk about an expensive item they’re acquiring or a large windfall of money.
Keep plying the caregiver with information, including location information for the item or cash. Then see what they do with it.
If they go for the bait, then you’ll have caught them red-handed. If they don’t, then hopefully your suspicions were incorrect.
What To Do If A Caregiver Steals From You (How To Report A Caregiver)
Unfortunately, you’ve confirmed that your senior’s caregiver is stealing from you or them. You even caught them doing it. Now what?
Here’s what you should do.
Contact The Authorities
Too many times, older Americans don’t report theft and financial elder abuse because they feel ashamed that they were taken advantage of or they doubt themselves and don’t want to accuse someone and then be wrong (“maybe I misplaced that missing jewelry myself“).
But stealing is stealing, and since it’s a crime, even if it is petty theft, you shouldn’t be lenient on the caregiver if you’re positive they stole from you or your senior.
After all, you trusted them, allowed them into the home, and gave them a job, and this is how they repaid you.
Even if the caregiver only took $50 in cash, if they did it once and you let it go, then it’s only a matter of time before they do it again.
You have to report the matter to the police.
I’m not saying you need to call 911 and have the caregiver taken out in handcuffs (unless a serious crime occurred).
But I am saying that you can go to the local police station on your own time and report the crime.
Later, you may decide not to press charges, but either way, the report stays in the caregiver’s record.
Contact Elder Fraud Agencies
Contact The Caregiver’s Employer
You also must get in touch with the caregiver’s employer and tell them what happened.
Theft is unacceptable, so the company that provided you with the caregiver will likely terminate that person’s employment immediately.
Even if you don’t press charges, their loss of a job should hopefully inspire the caregiver to think twice about stealing from clients again.
Contact An Elder Care Attorney
It is especially important to contact an elder care attorney, especially in cases where a will or estate was changed.
Caregiver theft unfortunately happens all the time, so you cannot and should not turn a blind eye to it.
If you notice any of these warning signs that your senior’s caregiver is taking from them or from you, don’t ignore them. Instead, try to catch the caregiver in the act of stealing if you can.
Then, go to the proper authorities, including the police and the caregiver’s employer.
Remember, if you let their behavior go, this can embolden the caregiver to steal bigger and better things or even begin stealing from other clients.