5 Signs a Caregiver Is Stealing From You
An heirloom bracelet goes missing, electronic gadgets can't be found, a wallet or bank account seems to be bleeding cash. Talk to anyone who's hired someone to help care for an older loved one, and theft is almost always a major worry. Bringing a paid caregiver into the home -- whether through an agency or privately -- can come as welcome relief to all, but it can also feel like a risky decision.
1. Receipts that don't add up
If grocery shopping and other errands are among a caregiver's responsibilities, it's pretty easy for "mix-ups" to occur. You might notice items listed on a receipt that seem out of character for your loved one, or certain supplies that seem to run out -- and be replaced -- with surprising frequency. If the caregiver takes your loved one out to shop or dine, you may notice purchases from stores that he or she doesn't typically frequent or restaurant meals that are out of your family's typical price range.
Why it's worth worrying about: A few dollars here, five dollars there may not seem worth making a fuss over. After all, caregivers aren't usually well paid, so is it worth rocking the boat over a little bit of paycheck padding?
Yes, says Carolyn Rosenblatt, author of The Boomer's Guide to Aging Parents. "You may see $6.50 for a lipstick, knowing Grandma doesn't wear lipstick, but if you let it slide you're sending a signal that no one's minding the store." Typically, these first purchases are tests, Rosenblatt says. "The caregiver is saying, 'Let's see if I can get away with it.' If you don't respond by confronting her, you're saying, 'Yes, you can.'"
What to do: For starters, avoid cash. Supply the caregiver with debit gift cards preloaded with a limited balance. This way, if fraud is occurring, you can limit the amount of liability your family is exposed to. Also, use online banking to monitor card transactions, so you can see how much is being spent at each store. Ask the caregiver to supply receipts for each shopping trip, and keep an eye out for any purchase that seems unnecessary or for quantities that seem overlarge.
If you find yourself hesitating over a questionable purchase in case it's an honest mistake, bring it up in that spirit, keeping it light and nonconfrontational. Explain that you noticed a purchase that didn't seem to be something intended for your family member, and you'd like to keep those kinds of purchases separate in the future so it's easy for you to keep track.
2. Frequent cell phone use on the job
Texting or taking calls on the job is discourteous and distracting -- but it could also be a sign of something more serious.
Why it's worth worrying about: While there are legitimate reasons a caregiver may need to make an occasional call, if someone's on the phone all the time, it's a signal that some outside relationship or network of relationships is more important than caregiving. It may even be that some outsider is calling the shots, says Rosenblatt.
What to do: If you -- or the agency you're working with -- haven't already done so, run a thorough background check on the person you've hired. While some agencies do an in-depth background check on all employees, including requiring drug testing, others are much less thorough. It's important to make sure good research was done, says Rosenblatt, because all too often records of crimes committed in other states or counties may not come up during a simple records search in your area.
Next, make sure you've securely protected your family member's finances from potential fraud. The best way to do this is by having your family member sign a durable power of attorney for finances, which authorizes you or another trusted person to oversee financial transactions. A power of attorney is just a piece of paper, though, unless it's recognized by the financial institutions that handle your loved one's money. The safest strategy is to inform the banks and other financial institutions that you're the proper legal agent for your loved one's finances and that no one else is authorized to act. To do this, you'll probably be asked to show a copy of the power of attorney document and may need to fill out additional forms.
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