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Preventing Caregiver Theft

Tips to ensure a loved one is not being scammed or looted by their hired care provider

Ellen’s 85-year-old father broke his hip, underwent surgery and returned to his Florida home after spending three weeks in rehabilitation. Then his nightmare really began.

A widower, he used a walker and needed assistance bathing, getting dressed and with meals. Ellen turned to a local caregiving agency recommended by the hospital and hired a home health aide to provide 24/7 care.

Her father liked his aide, who showered him with praise and affection, until he realized she had stolen $1,000 in small bills hidden in his dresser drawer. The discovery was very upsetting, but he refused to report the theft to the agency or the police because he didn’t want to ruin the woman’s life. He simply told the agency it did not work out, briefly received help from a new aide, and soon moved to an assisted living facility with a longtime staff and record of security.

Fortunately, incidents like these are rare when dealing with established agencies —but they do happen. Experts say it’s important for family members to be vigilant because your loved one may be vulnerable and unable to spot fraud, theft or questionable behavior.

Gail Hunt, CEO of the National Alliance for Caregiving, a coalition of 40 organizations that focus on caregiving issues, recommends that an adult child play an active role in securing any home care for older parents and loved ones. She also recommends that someone periodically drop by or get a neighbor or friend to check in to see how things are working out with the home health care worker.

“The family needs to hire someone from a reputable firm, check their references and make sure they’ve had a criminal background check from the agency,” Hunt said.

Here are six tips to guard against theft:

1. Use a reputable caregiving agency. Ask your hospital or doctor for home care agency recommendations. Make sure the agency is properly bonded, licensed, insured and accredited. Interview the agency’s supervisor, find out how long the aide has worked for the agency and talk to any family that previously employed her. Always keep the lines of communication open with the agency.

2. Find out what actions an agency will take if there is a theft. Will the agency take full responsibility for any theft? Will it call the police to investigate? In order to file a successful claim for reimbursement with the agency’s insurer, a theft must be reported to the police, and local authorities must interview your loved one. That could be emotionally difficult for everyone involved.

3. Be cautious about hiring an aide on your own. It may be cheaper hiring an aide independently, but you should inquire about the aide’s background, talk to previous employers and pay a reputable firm to do a criminal background check if you decide to take this route. Make sure the aide is a U.S. citizen or legal resident, and pay the employer’s portion of Social Security to be on the up and up.

4. Keep an inventory of valuables in the home. Compile a list and take pictures to document your parent’s valuables, put them under lock and key, or remove them from the home. Don’t forget about hidden jewelry or valuables, and think about removing any valuable memorabilia displayed in the house. There’s no need to put temptation in front of anyone.

5. Don’t invite petty theft. Your parent should keep only a small amount of cash at home. Don’t leave money in obvious places, such as the nightstand next to the bed. Make sure your loved one keeps any checkbook, ATM and credit cards, and computer passwords in a secure place.

6. Watch your parent’s bank account and credit card charges. Make sure a family member receives duplicate bank statements and credit card bills — or better yet, has online access to our loved one’s accounts so financial transactions can be monitored. Look for unusual spending: a bank account that is suddenly bleeding cash, checks made out for cash, or unusual credit card transactions. There are plenty of stories about aides getting a power of attorney, putting their names on bank accounts or receiving expensive gifts from their ailing charge. Don’t let this happen to your loved one.

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