How to Deal With Caregiver Theft

Why identity thieves target older adults, and how to fight back

Today, people over age 50 control 70 percent of our nation's wealth. This sets older adults up for a variety of theft schemes and scams, not because they're older and weaker, but simply because they have the money, and thieves know it.

Unfortunately, well over two-thirds of the financial crimes committed against older adults are perpetrated by someone the victim has a relationship with -- a family member or paid or unpaid caregiver. This, combined with shame and embarrassment, leads to a significant underreporting of these crimes, says Kim Connors, deputy district attorney in Santa Clara County, California, who prosecutes financial crimes against older adults.

"People are often hesitant to report these crimes to law enforcement because they know the person doing it," Connors says, "and they often really care about this person, and have a hard time separating the person they care about from the person who would commit a crime against them." While it may seem tempting to deal with a matter privately, or through the civil courts, the best way to handle any suspected theft or fraud is to make a report to the local police department, Connors says.

The first step: reporting a theft.This can be a daunting prospect for older adults, but many local police departments and county prosecutors have special units specifically established to handle crimes committed against them. In addition, insurance companies won't investigate a theft claim unless the victim has made a police report. So the first step, as hard as it may be, is to call the local police department nonemergency line and ask that an officer be sent out to take a report. These officers are often willing to come to the person's home, so the older adult can tell her story in familiar surroundings. Another option is to call the county Adult Protective Services department. In many counties, this is part of the county Health Department. The department has social workers and other professionals adept at handling these matters, and they can help get the process started.

Dealing with shame over being victimized. The most difficult hurdle in reporting theft against an older adult is the victim's sense of personal shame and embarrassment over her own perceived failings. "People over 65 tend to be very responsible," says Connors. "Often, instead of reporting a crime, they'll sit down and think, 'What did I do wrong that I shouldn't let happen again?' They're embarrassed and take responsibility for the loss, and they see it as their own mistake. They need someone to tell them it's OK, that this isn't their fault."

Others may feel too much time has passed to report the crime. But in most states, authorities can still successfully prosecute crimes, especially financial ones where there's a paper trail, years after they're committed. In California, for example, authorities can prosecute crimes up to four years after an older adult discovers she's been victimized.

The next step: a detective gets involved. After a police officer takes an initial report, he gives that information to a detective, who will do the followup work. This often entails gathering the paperwork that will show a crime has been committed. If the victim knows who committed the theft, she'll likely be shown a photo lineup of suspects and be asked the pick the person who committed the crime. Again, in most cases, much of this can be done without going into the local police department. Investigations can be short, covering just a few days, or they can take months, depending on the crime and the resources of your local agency.

Once the detective has finished his work and there's enough evidence to prosecute, the matter is turned over to the county district attorney's office. Again, most counties have special units to prosecute crimes against older adults.

When an older adult has to go to court after her identity has been stolen

The most daunting aspect for many victims is the prospect of having to tell their story in court. But Connors says that while this indeed can be scary, it can also be an empowering experience. "They get to come into a safe environment where they're believed."

In nearly all cases -- 90 to 95 percent -- the victim can avoid going to court altogether, as these cases end in a guilty plea. Very few criminal cases actually go to a jury trial. If your friend or relative's is the rare case that does go to trial, she'll have to testify about her loss in court, and about whom she believes committed the crime. This is the only time an older victim will have to appear to court.

Connors says many older adults are worried that they'll forget dates and details and become flustered while testifying. Most prosecutors will lead the victim through the process beforehand, so they know what to expect. Additionally, the victim can read her earlier statement to police and refresh her memory about details that may have later become confused.

Victims, of course, can attend other hearings, and if the person charged with the crime pleads guilty or is found guilty, the victim may be asked if she wants to participate in the sentencing phase. Often, she will have already been contacted by the county probation department, which draws up a report about the crime and its impact on the victim, and then makes sentencing recommendations to the court. At the time of sentencing, the victim can attend the court hearing and tell the court how the crime affected her. Many older victims choose to read a letter they had written to the court or have the prosecutor read the letter for them.

Getting a victim's money back after her identity is stolen

Many victims believe that reporting the crime means the local authorities will be able to get all their money or assets returned to them. Although this is possible in some cases, it often is not, nor is it the job of local police or county prosecutors to "undo" the crime committed against the older adult. There are agencies, however, that will assist you and the person you're caring for in doing this. They'll have names such as Senior Adult Legal Assistance. Adult Protective Services can also aid in this process. If this fails, contact your county Legal Aid Society for help.

In many cases, the perpetrator will have already spent the stolen money, making it impossible to return it to the victim. But some simple scams can be more easily reversed. For instance, one way scam artists take control of an older adult's car is to go to the local Division of Motor Vehicles and claim a family member died and gave them the car, but no one can find the title. The unsuspecting clerk then issues a new title in the thief's name. In this instance, the problem can be corrected by a court order mandating that the department reissue the title in the original owner's name.

Likewise, if funds are stolen via credit card or through forged checks, often a bank or credit card agency will refund the money. This only applies to cases of identity theft, however, not to scams. If an older adult falls prey to such a scheme, call her bank as soon as you've made a police report to find out the bank's policy on such fraud.

Older adults can sometimes be compensated if they miss work, need psychological counseling, or have medical expenses related to the crime committed against them. In California, for example, these expenses can be reimbursed through a special victims' compensation fund. Ask your local county prosecutor if this is available where you live.

Elder fraud remains an underreported crime, Connors says. "It still isn't recognized as much as it should be. We need people to report these crimes, and we need people to talk about it among their friends so they can avoid the same difficulties." One of the most valuable aspects in reporting a crime, Connors says, is that it helps to prevent another older adult from falling victim to the same scam, or even the same perpetrator.

Susan Kostal

Susan Kostal, Senior Editor of the Legal channel, has covered legal affairs issues as a journalist for more than 20 years. See full bio

8 months, said...

I stay in independent living facility. My new caregiver shops for me. I now eat beans rice veggies fruit. I can't afford meats and snacks. I am locked out of online banking I don't know how I spend so much on so little. I have 800 per month left after rent utilities. No furniture no TV no radio. Clothes are ragged need replacing. Only see caregiver couple hours Thursday only.

over 3 years, said...

My dad made my sister poa which was okay. After he died I found out that she had sold his home and car. She put the money into CD'd inher name and mine. His adopted daughter was not on the CD. His will states that all three of us was to share his estate equally. My sister cashed the cd's and gave me half. I think that she commit fraud. How long after Dad's death can I still file against her?

over 3 years, said...

Im in Delaware county PA and have found out a person I know who is a caregiver for someone with MS in steal money and her prescription meds. I need help on who to report this to because I feel that this is low and wrong.

over 4 years, said...

I had this problem with my cleaning woman. I am unwell but my daughter revised my bank account and became suspicious - I could never spend the amount it showed. So we had cameras installed, and also took pictures of my cash paper money in my purse. When we had all the evidence we confronted her and had her sign her admission to theft, with her commitment to pay off her debt in monthly installments. She paid one month only then stopped. We made a police complain but were told not to bank on it for there are more severe crimes that the police can't be bothered with. Finally we gave up.

over 4 years, said...

I am leasing a home from a woman that i suspect is stealing from the home owner who has given poa to her and had been committed to a nursing home.What is my legal basis for stopping the abuse ?

over 4 years, said...

I responded to this article in February. The situation with my mum and her caregiver has gotten even more complicated. She was fired, and said she'd repay the $25,000 gradually. I took my mother to the local police and we wrote out a statement, handed in the bank records and talked to a police detective as this article suggested, but my mother ended up not filing the charge. Other caregivers were brought in, but my mother was so challenging and cruel with them, that they'd either leave or my mother would fire them. She even reduced one of them to tears. Eventually the inevitable happened, and the thieving caregiver came back, though I don't know if it was her pleading to coe back or mum asking her to. At first she was working part time to pay off her debt. Now she's living there full time and I get conflicting reports from my mother and my brother about how much shes paying her. All of the sudden the car that my mother bought her doesn't matter because it was paid for through the company, though theres a big fat car loan on her bank statements. My mother's in an emotional stranglehold of loneliness, and this week when the handyman came to take away some furniture my mother had labeled in the basement, the caregiver allowed the handyman to take furniture from the guest room downstairs that she knew my mother didn't want thrown out. It was actually my brother's furniture - including his older son's toddler bed that he'd needed for his younger son. Yet again this woman's taking advantage of my mother's weakness. I can't do anything about it. The only thing I can do is tell my mother that I won't be in the house at the same time as her caregiver. My mother's reponse? "Oh, well I guess you're never going to see me then".

over 4 years, said...

in Connecticut where I am taking care of my mother who was financially abused by my brother and I took him to court, not only did my brother abuse her financially, but the court system and the court-appointed attorney have abused her without any recourse. when and why are the court systems not set up for the elderly but for their own pockets?

almost 5 years, said...

my mother went through this with my sister and brother. Now that I will be 60 soon and I see the attitude of my grown children, I will not go through what happened to her. I have my own plans and it will not include anyone who can't think beyond themselves.

about 5 years, said...

This exact kind of thing just happened to my widowed legally blind mother. She calls her caregiver her best-friend, and constantly talks about her. She paid for her driving lessons, gave her $5000 toward a new car, is the guaranteur on that car, got her a DVD player, a TV, a kindle, clothing, DVDs. Two days ago I discovered that this month she withdrew a total of $7,500 from the ATM. In the months before that it was $6,400, $3,000 , $3,100, $5,700$5,200 and $3,200. I've found liquor in her room, my brother swears the rum's been watered down and found a joint in her room. she never gives reciepts becase my mother never asked for them because she can't read them. And the caregiver said she didn't know how to go about doing online banking for my mother. How convenient. My brother and I are going to be with my mother for when she fires her in a few days and asks her to leave immedietly. I have no idea what's going to happen. My mother's known for being difficult, and she drives me crazy with her lack of patience. extreme anxiety, and how she deals with customer service people, but despite all this, it really hurts to find out all this evidence that she's been taken advantage of.

over 5 years, said...

I had my neighbor who's a nurse taking care of my mother for almost 3 years and found out she has taken almost 5,000 of my mom's money that mom desperately needs for her care. I notified the police but I have no proof, in fact they seem to think I took it. If I could do this all over again, I would put a nanny cam in the living room where mom's is because mom will never get that money back. The nurse though has herself another car bought two days after she took the money.

over 5 years, said...

We had gold and diamond jewelry taken. The police were called in and could barely be bothered to follow-up even though the agency provided them with full contact info on their (ex-)employee. The police told us that the jewelry almost immediately goes to a Cash-for-Gold shop, the loose diamonds then get sold to a jeweler. That leaves us with no hope of ever recovering items loaded with sentimental value. Even though the shops keep records of transactions it is easy for customers to use -- and some cooperate with -- faked IDs. This caregiver knew she was only a temporary filling in for just a day or two and made good use of her time!

almost 7 years, said...

It is a great Ideal for everyone who is looking for someone to care for there love ones in there home to get a back ground check. In Los Angeles alone there are people who are comminting bank and check frauds in the elderly home. Please do not hire anyone into your home to take care of your parents unless you do a thourough background check and fingerprinting check on them. A good Dr. passed away in 09 Dr. Shneidman that had this done to him and the person is still on the run even after his death. She will be caught it is only a matter of time.

about 7 years, said...

My mother passed away a few months ago and I needed to find a caregiver for my Dad. I posted several ads on Craigslist. I also contacted a background screening company I found online that provides background screening for In Home Services, called Protection Plus Solutions. One of the Caregivers had a criminal history several years back for writing bad checks. When I confronted the person they said it was over 5 years ago and that it was all cleared up, but I didn't take the chance. All I can say is that it pays to run the background on anyone who's working in your home, PERIOD. Even if it's a plummer or a caregiver you need to know who these people are.

about 7 years, said...

After my mother passed away , I needed to find a caregiver for my Dad. He is pretty much self sufficient but needed help with grocery shopping, light cooking, cleaning and driving to and from doctors appointments. I found a few caregivers through Craigslist and was fortunate to have run them through a background check prior to hiring. One caregiver had a criminal history for bank fraud. If you're having anyone taking care of a family member you need to check them out. I did contact a company called Protection Plus Solutions that works only with home services and knew exactly what needed to be run on the caregiver. I can't imagine what could have happened if I didn't run a background check. So far the caregiver is doing a great job with my Dad.