Manipulation and missing work
4. Bids for sympathy
Personal tales of woe are a common danger sign. If your loved one begins expressing worry and concern for a situation his caregiver has told him about, that's your cue to get involved -- and quickly. "A sister with cancer who can't afford medical care, a child who needs dental work, a family member in another country who's being persecuted and desperately needs to come to the U.S. -- these are the kinds of scenarios we hear all the time," says caregiving author Carolyn Rosenblatt. "The next thing you know, your loved one's writing checks and that money's gone."
Why it's worth worrying about: The caregiver relationship is a professional service. If it becomes personal enough for your loved one to become involved in the caregiver's private life, the caregiver has clearly crossed a line. Best-case scenario: The caregiver is manipulating your family member. Worst-case scenario: An outright fraud is in progress.
What to do: Act quickly. You may hesitate to question your loved one's judgment, but the caregiver, if he or she is a practiced scammer, will be counting on that. Call a family meeting and discuss the situation with all family members, including siblings who don't live nearby. Make sure everyone is on the same page, so you don't end up in the all-too-common situation in which family members are divided against one another or undermine one another. As many of you as possible should talk to your parent or other loved one together, explaining how concerned you are and why you need to take steps to protect him or her.
If the caregiver was hired through an agency, it's a good idea to alert the agency to your concerns and ask them to double-check the records of the searches performed and make certain this caregiver hasn't been accused or convicted of exploitation or fraud in the past. If the caregiver was hired independently and a thorough background check was not performed at the time, now would be the time to do some digging.
Depending on how your loved one reacts, you may wish to terminate the caregiver's employment or set up a more careful monitoring situation in which you limit access to funds. If possible, consult a family lawyer to make sure all possible legal protections are in place, says Caring.com legal expert Barbara Kate Repa. If your loved one's judgment appears to be seriously impaired and you're not able to convince him or her to grant you power of attorney, you may need to consider trying to obtain legal guardianship, also called conservatorship.
5. Missing work on Mondays
Some days your loved one's caregiver seems responsible and reliable; other days -- particularly Mondays or the first day back after time off -- he or she goes AWOL.
Why it's worth worrying about: "This is a classic sign of alcoholism or substance abuse; people go on a bender over the weekend and then can't make it into work on Mondays," says caregiving author Carolyn Rosenblatt. "Unfortunately, alcoholism and chemical dependency often go hand in hand, and they frequently lead people to steal to meet their need for drugs."
What to do: Be on the alert for other signs of alcohol and substance abuse. Check the liquor cabinet and make a note of liquid levels in each bottle; you might even taste the contents to see if they've been watered down. Go through bathroom and kitchen cabinets and empty them of any prescription and over-the-counter medicines that might tempt an abuser. For prescriptions in current use, count the pills so you can check if doses go missing. Hide medications in a safe place or -- if your loved one doesn't need them right now -- take them home with you. Keep prescription receipts and labels in a safe place, so the caregiver can't call in refills without your knowledge.
If your caregiver was hired through an agency, report all unexplained absences and discuss the situation with the agency. If the caregiver has a history of this type of behavior with previous clients, the agency should be proactive about assigning you a new caregiver. If the caregiver was hired independently, have a frank discussion and set boundaries. Explain that you require 24 hours advance notice if he or she has to miss work, and another unplanned absence is going to be grounds for dismissal. Then stand firm. The caregiver will almost certainly use illness as the excuse and protest that illnesses come on suddenly, but don't get sucked into that debate.
While this is happening, take all necessary precautions to protect your loved one's cash and financial records, since a caregiver with a drinking or drug problem is a risk and a disgruntled former caregiver can be a threat.