5 Signs a Caregiver Is Stealing From You

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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. Stories abound about vulnerable people who've been taken advantage of.

The solution? Be careful, proactive, and alert. Here, some of the key warning signs that a caregiver is on the take.

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.

Phone use and friendships

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.

3. Cultivating a personal connection

For many older adults, a caregiver quickly becomes a trusted friend, often the only person they see from day to day. With such consistent and intimate contact, close bonds are common. But keep your eyes open for anything that seems to step over the boundaries of professionalism. Watch and listen for signs that your loved one is becoming emotionally involved with or dependent on his or her caregiver, such as talking about the caregiver all the time or seeming to consider that relationship more important than friendships or family ties.

Why it's worth worrying about: Typically, thieves planning a scam will gradually "prime the pump," seducing an elderly target with greater and greater shows of affection until he or she becomes emotionally dependent on the caregiver. "It can start very subtly: touches on the arm, little gifts, shows of affection," says caregiving author Carolyn Rosenblatt. Hugs, compliments, and attention become stepping stones to building a connection that's overly intimate. Some concerned family members have found themselves in situations in which their loved ones bought their caregivers cars or gave other expensive gifts, paid their rent, or "loaned" them money that was never repaid.

What to do: Prevention is worth a pound of cure, experts say. Loneliness and isolation leave many older adults susceptible to all manner of exploitation, from relatively small expenditures to outright fraud and identity theft. To protect your loved one, you'll want to act on two fronts.

First, the psychological: Think about your loved one's day-to-day interactions. Does he have opportunities for companionship other than his caregiver's visits? Can you find a day program or other activity for him to attend, or are there others who might visit from time to time to liven up his routine?

Next, the practical: Focus on safeguarding against his caregiver gaining access to his finances. Experts recommend setting up online banking for checking, credit cards, and any other accounts, so you can monitor all activity in real time. (Most transactions post within a few days.) If you check credit card records and discover charges that you or your loved one didn't authorize, act quickly to protect yourselves from identity theft, says Caring.com legal expert Barbara Kate Repa. Close the account and immediately alert the company holding the account that you believe it's been used without your authorization. Then alert one of the three major consumer credit reporting agencies and request a fraud alert. If your loved one hasn't already signed a durable power of attorney for finances so someone trusted has authorization to access financial accounts, encourage him or her to do it now.

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.

Melanie Haiken

Melanie Haiken discovered how important it is to provide accurate, targeted, usable health information to people facing difficult decisions when she was health editor of Parenting magazine. See full bio

4 months, said...

Yodalovesme We have noticed boxes of tissues and personal protection running out , way too soon! How do we stop this? Can we have security cameras installed? Then what? Have caregiver arrested for petty theft?

6 months, said...

My elderly father’s care giver isolated him from all his friends and anyone who raised a question about her. After knowing her 6 months he gave her his house in his will and her boyfriend his car. He died two months later and that’s when we found out. We had been trying for months to get him to be tested so we could prove he was losing competence and we finally got him to agree to it but it was too late. We are now having to contest his will instead of grieve for a good man we all loved.

9 months, said...

I have noticed with my mother's past two caregivers that we are very quickly going through toilet paper. I placed 5 back up rolls in the cabinet on Sunday and Thursday there was only one left. It may seem simple enough, but I would imagine they think this is something that will go unnoticed. Has anyone else seen something like this.

10 months, said...

My Father's neighbor (Nelly) was an older never married woman who eventually required a care giver during the day. My girlfriend who had assisted me in caregiving in my Father's home was "drafted" into working 2 of 7 days so her regular caregiver could take days off, apparently they had problems with the back up caregiver's thus drafting my sweet kind girlfriend to assist. Everything was fine for a month or so when one day the elderly woman accused my Girlfriend of stealing money that was hidden in a book that had about 100 other books! We learned it was 3- $100 bills, my girlfriend was shocked to hear her accuse her of taking the money especially after hearing the last person doing her job stole money too! She showed me a small stack of uncashed checks from my Uncle for her time, almost $2,000! She showed the lady her un cashed checks and said she was going to have to quit even though she feels funny about it as it looks funny however it will look worse when it happens again.. She heard via neighbors that the new caregiver amazingly also stole money secreted away. Obviously the primary caregiver was framing the new employee and that elderly woman even bought her a new car just prior to my girlfriend being recruited. She later heard the caregiver was sure she was inheriting her substantial estate, the home alone worth $600k+ and when it was donated to the ASPCA she was furious!

almost 2 years, said...

What if A paid caregiver is accused of stealing medication from the home? What can I do legally? Can I sue her for stealing and abuse if she has liability insurance from the agency? Or, is the agency held responsible for her actions?

over 2 years, said...

My husband recently died. He had an excellent helper over the hears,. This fellow helped my husband with various repairs, etc. He had our complete trust. When my husband died, I gave him keys to outbuilding so he could easily do yard work without me necessarily having to supervise minutia. While recently in the hospital for 4 weeks for serious emergency surgery, this helper told my tenant and father (my father stayed at my home to take care of things) that he was still doing the regular yard work, Neither my Dad, nor a tenant who was also friendly with this fellow, noticed anything untoward. Upon my return from hospital I found many building materials and repair materials missing:: copper pipe, 2 large slabs of Marble, lumber that my husband had hand milled and intended us to use together on projects in our retirement. The only other person with keys was this helper. I took his keys and confronted him. He never denied or confirmed taking anything - - he just told me I should never have given him the keys. In our neighborhood, it is pretty common to give a trusted helper keys. He also ruined a new lawnmower I'd purchased and a snowblower had to be repaired twice after this helper used it. A garden fence built by husband was suddenly missing when I returned from the hospital - -but it was in plain sight in the garage before I left. I've changed locks and periodically change padlocks on lumber shed and garage bays where lawn more, et were kept. Since then, the former helper has had the nerve to request more marble (told me I had enough since I would never use it anyway) and building materials. He does decent yard work, but I will only pay a neighbor for this fellow to do yard word on the driveway area shared with the neighbor. How does one deal with a fellow like this, I gave him many things over the years, in particular, very generous Christmas bonuses, a new guitar when he needed one, a leather recliner for his wife when she needed to always sit with legs elevated. My husband (prior to his death) warned me this guy might try to take advantage so to be careful. But my husband never thought he would steal and neither did I (and we discussed this before my husband Died) What can I do? The fellow has stolen about $400 in Marble and another $200-$300 in lumber, $200 in copper pipes, plus several small marble pieces, hunks of granite and slate, ceramic and marble tile, and hewn galvanized pipe. Then there are the fences, which my late husband made by hand for my garden -- those were precious. He wasn't a caregiver, but he did help care for the two family in which we live and our 2 family next door. What do I tell tenants? Any ideas? Thanks.

over 3 years, said...

This year 1/2014 we had a sitter recommended to come help care for my mother and some for my father. She has been working all year getting compassionate and spoiling mother. When I would go fir a visit there is no privacy. Dad died4 months ago and She involved herself with mothers social security, plus having access to mothers bank card, calls her mom and goes overboard with compassion and high degree of spoiling like she's a baby. She refused to do a w2, gets paid by cash because she does not want to deal with the taxes. She works 30 or more hours a week , receives social security, there's not time sheets filled out to track her time. Please help me get rid of her. She is taking control. Is there any laws broke

over 3 years, said...

Thank you We have a situation we aren't comfortable with. That information helped.

almost 4 years, said...

I had a caregiver stealing my pain meds and personal objects that was expensive.have her on tape.she also had the guy in the apt by mine that she also caregiver for sign that when he died she inherited everything!she got a van for disabled and a car.the money in his checking&savings accounts.to two people I know of .she also was getting paid by the goverment&the state.the found her guilty.they gave her her caregiver livence back&her job.what ever happen to are America.im ashamed to be one at this moment!

over 4 years, said...

To prevent theft from caregivers remove all valuables and cash from the home. Get power of attorney and have everything put in a trusted family member's or lawyer's name as a family trust...or give that power of attorney to a family member and transfer all funds into that trusted persons name.

over 4 years, said...

I need help bad i recently got in a relation ship with my bf who has 2 brothers he was brought into there family at 5 months old his father was dating their mother & he was lied to his whole life that his father was just a friend named buddy later on he found out that really it was his father. Anyways we are in Michigan & a year back his brother mind you they are twin brothers has a stroke & so we go help him shop ext well these people start coming around & always coming up with reasons to fix things around his brothers house but they want to pick people to have things done i thought omg theses people are robbing him slowly but hes not getting it later on his twin brother gets robbed for his whole life saving so we move him in with us find out hes a cronic alcoholic & when we say you need to stop drinking he gets all mad start throwing temper tamprins like a 5 year old but there both in there late 60s his brother buys us a home to get him away from these people who robbed him for everything he had & then this lady who was helping clean for the brother who had a stroke comes in & starts wanting to do everything for him causing problems in our family then states herself as being a caregiver months go by the brother gets worse & they come to put him in a nursing home but they never did & we end up in jail over lies by the caregiver she states she is a license caregiver but was not found in the system then we go down to probate court n find out she has taken over 4 familys she has a scam once they get custody of the elderly they get everything they have if they were to die. House money & cars she has taken 100,000 thousands from people & nothing has been done.!!!!!!!

over 4 years, said...

I'm a caregiver i have been since i was 5 years old for late grandfather. Anyway the things you have written some are true, But misleading caregiver give there all to these people that do not step up unless they need money. We have rights too... We do show care and love because they are lonely. Money can become a big issue when prices go up u have a family to care for too... I love caring for my elderly people But some can be just as scammer and story tellers too. Age ain't But a number. Some have a lot of dense

over 4 years, said...

thank you

over 4 years, said...

a caregiver I had was on her cellphone all the time with family members, SMS, etc. I told the agency about it and they talked to the person that they are to help and not use the phone all the time. it stops after a reprimand from the agency. when having someone buy ie food for you only, get a receipt, count the change rec'd, and see if it is what you need. no substiutions, or if so, have them call you from the store to say that they do not have the item, and if you what something else. give them a purse for the list and money and write down the amount of cash given out in front of the caregiver, and have them count it too. always think twice about everything, and everyone, even if they seem to be ok.

over 4 years, said...

Interesting points, but I find it sad that on the one hand the article recommends pouring over bank statements and receipts and doing in-depth research into the caregiver and yet says nothing about spending some of that time with the relative who needs care and companionship! A lot of talk about protecting a vulnerable person's money (presumably with an eye to inheritance) and yet merrily leaving them at the mercy of potential criminals.