George is 90 and is generally doing well, but he has a few memory problems. His wife, Gloria worries about him keeping track of things. He has a full-time caregiver from a qualified agency. He goes to the gym for an hour every day. The caregiver drives him there and to the bank, to his errands and to lunch. He keeps cash on hand for his own use.
The last time George went to the bank, Gloria wanted to know what had happened to the $300 he withdrew. He couldn’t find it.
The next time, he said he had put $1000 in his “secret stash” drawer in his dresser. It was empty when Gloria checked. He withdrew another $1000 from the bank, which the caregiver drove him to. This time, $300 of it was missing almost immediately. Gloria thought George had just misplaced it.
Then Gloria got a call from her credit card company. Someone had tried to charge $15,000 worth of merchandise. Because it was unusual, the amount triggered the call. She had enough sense to cancel the credit card. She didn’t have enough sense to see what was becoming very plain.
The caregiver was stealing from them.
When we got the call about this case at AgingParents.com, I was more than a little frustrated. Gloria asked the caregiver about the money. She admitted taking it! The caregiver was struggling. She cried. Her husband had walked out on her. Gloria felt sorry for the thief! Gloria didn’t want to call the police, because she “didn’t have the heart”.
I gave Gloria a heads-up. This thief is gaming you. The “poor me” story is a trick to get your sympathy and it’s working. You must immediately change the bank accounts, cancel any credit cards to which the caregiver could have had access and change all passwords in your electronic banking. And, you must call the police before the caregiver steals from anyone else. There needs to be a public record of this.
“There’s no way to really prove it” Gloria said. Not so, Gloria. Ever hear of circumstantial evidence? No one else had access and there was no one else in the house who could have taken the money, I told her.
Gloria reported her suspicions about the caregiver to the caregiver’s employer agency, which immediately fired the caregiver. Good. At least she stopped further damage from this caregiver. However, the prospect of identify theft and someone using other credit card numbers remained a risk. That risk could continue for many months, even years.
Why is George still handling cash?
Gloria is not an assertive personality type and is very hesitant to take it upon herself to stop George from managing cash any longer. He has always done his own banking. He has always handled his money apart from hers. It would be a major change. But, I advised, it’s time. Gloria needs guidance to help George accept that it’s time for her to take over the responsibility for all the finances.
The fact that George didn’t know cash was missing was a red flag that Gloria missed. Fortunately, greater losses did not occur before she figured it out. We don’t yet know who might have gotten George’s credit card numbers, bank account numbers, Social Security number, or other identifying information which would allow greater theft to happen.
We all need to keep a close watch on a 90-year-old like George with memory problems. No one in his situation who has already been financially abused should continue to handle money without supervision.
Caregivers might not be thieves to start with, but they can change when their personal financial pressure mounts. The temptation to steal from a vulnerable client is just too much. No stranger coming into a private home with an elder should be completely trusted with money, valuables and private information
Gloria needs help to find the courage to stop putting her husband at risk for financial abuse. I tell her not to be afraid that her husband won’t like it if he can’t take out $1000 whenever he feels like it. His free rein with the handling of finances has already proven too dangerous. Her connection to us at AgingParents.com will help keep George safe, with ongoing guidance.
Carolyn Rosenblatt, RN, Attorney, AgingParents.com
If you have an aging loved one with memory loss who is still handling money independently, that elder is at risk for theft. You can protect them with a clear plan. Get professional guidance at AgingParents.com, from our nurse-lawyer, psychologist team. Get past resistance! Call us at 866-962-4464 today or reach us at AgingParents.com.
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