Powerful Tips for Avoiding Financial Abuse of Seniors by Hired Caregivers

Caring for your parent and helping him or her to say living at home can be very rewarding. It can also take a lot of your time and energy.  You are only human, however, and there are only so many hours in a day.  Hiring a caregiver to help out can be a great way to increase the likelihood that your parent can age in place and stay right where they want to be; at home.

Whatever way you end up hiring someone there are some things that you must plan for in order to reduce the chances of being financially abused.  These precautions should be taken whether you hire through an agency, online registry, or are referred to someone through a friend, family member or even church.

Would you recognize financial abuse if you saw it?

Exactly what is financial abuse?  It is the illegal or improper use of an elder’s funds, property, or assets.  Not only does this include the big things such as blatantly stealing money or items or signing financial documents on the seniors’ behalf, but also the smaller things such as not returning the proper change after shopping for a senior, purchasing personal items when you should be shopping for the senior with the seniors’ money, or “borrowing” money from a senior and not paying back.

Some Things you can do to Decrease the Risk of Financial Abuse

  • Whenever you hire your caregiver from (an agency or privately), make sure that an appropriate background check is conducted.  This report should include not only an on-site criminal court records search, but also a sex offender search, Fraud Abuse and Control Information System (FACIS) search and a liens and judgments report.

When you are considering hiring someone, ask for their full name, date of birth, address, phone number, previous employer information and 3 references, 2 of them should be previous employers.  Make sure you actually call the references to find out about the prospective caregiver’s work ethic, problems, and whether the person would rehire them if given the opportunity.  You can run a simple background check online or hire a company to run a comprehensive check for you.  

You absolutely need to know the background of a caregiver, or any other stranger, who you invite into a seniors home. Seniors are too vulnerable not to consider this important information.  

  • Before a caregiver starts their job, prepare the home by making sure that valuables are not left out in the open.  Items such as cash, credit cards, check book, bank and credit card statements, social security cards, driver’s license and jewelry should be removed from the open.  The best location for them is locked in a drawer or closet.
  • If the senior may have difficulty conducting their own banking tasks such as making purchases and deposits, writing checks and balancing accounts make sure that a solution is in place before a caregiver starts so that there will be no need for the elder to ever ask the caregiver to help with finances.  Before initiating any of the following, consult with an attorney or financial advisor.  
  • If the senior is still able to make their own decisions then discuss with them the possibility of having a Power of Attorney for Finances which would give a trusted family member or close friend the ability to tend to their financial matters in the event that they cannot do it themselves.  
  • If the senior is unable to make their own decisions then consult with an attorney about obtaining a legal conservatorship which would allow you or other trusted person to access the seniors finances in order to tend to their needs.
  • Arrange for social security, SSI and pension checks to be automatically deposited.
  • If you have obtained a Power of Attorney for Finances, you can help the senior pay their bills.  If you live out of the area you can still help by paying the bills electronically over the internet. You could have bill and bank statements mailed to you, or have them sent to you electronically.  Online payments are reportedly safer today than writing out a check and mailing it.
  • Purchase Visa gift cards for the caregiver to use to make necessary purchases.  You can also make use of prepaid reloadable credit cards that you can repeatedly transfer funds onto as needed.  Many Visa gift cards can now be registered online and you will then be able to see all the locations that the card was used for purchases.  
  • Make sure the caregiver knows up front that they are not to ask the senior for money and that all money is tracked.
  • Prepare the senior about what to say if the caregiver does ask for money.  They can say they don’t have any money, or that they are not in charge of their money and they need to ask you or their accountant or attorney first (even if it is not true!) Talk about it ahead of time; before it happens.
  • If you or other trusted family member is unable to assist with the task of helping to manage the senior’s finances, consider hiring a professional money manager.  You can find a professional in your area and get more information at the website for the American Association of Daily Money Managers at www.aadmm.com.  

Warning Signs of Financial Abuse

According to the National Center on Elder Abuse the signs and symptoms of elder financial abuse could include, but are not limited to:

  • sudden changes in bank account or banking practice, including an unexplained withdrawal of large sums of money by a person accompanying the elder;
  • the inclusion of additional names on an elder’s bank signature card;
  • unauthorized withdrawal of the elder’s funds using the elder’s ATM card;
  • abrupt changes in a will or other financial documents;
  • unexplained disappearance of funds or valuable possessions;
  • substandard care being provided or bills unpaid despite the availability of adequate financial resources;
  • discovery of an elder’s signature being forged for financial transactions or for the titles of his/her possessions;
  • sudden appearance of previously uninvolved relatives claiming their rights to an elder’s affairs and possessions;
  • unexplained sudden transfer of assets to a family member or someone outside the family;
  • the provision of services that are not necessary; and
  • an elder’s report of financial exploitation.

Reporting  Financial Abuse

If you suspect elder abuse, get as much information as possible, try to assure the safety of the senior by removing them from the situation or dismissing the caregiver, and then file an elder abuse report. If the senior is in immediate danger, call the police or 911 immediately.  Every county has an Adult Protective Services (APS) agency that takes reports of suspected elder abuse.  The number for APS can usually be found in the area of Department of Human or Social Services in your phonebook or online.   Or, you can call the Eldercare Locator at 800-677-1116 and they will assist you with locating the appropriate agency and phone number.  Be prepared to give them the zip code where the senior lives.

Please know that the number of excellent, responsible and professional elder care providers available far outweighs those who are going to abuse or take advantage of a senior.  This information is provided with the intent that you do not go into a caregiving relationship blindly, without any information on the possibilities of elder abuse, but it is not meant to scare you into not wanting to get help with caregiving.

It is hopeful that you now feel equipped with the information that you need to go into a caregiving relationship responsibly and doing all that you can to help prevent problems.  You can do it!

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