Caregiver fraud is on the rise! Learn how to identify caregiver theft, fraud, dependent abuse and other caregiver scams and how to prevent them.
Elder Abuse, Caregiver Theft and Fraud
The most common type of elder abuse occurs by a caregiver who targets the elderly and disabled and tries to take advantage of them. A caregiver is a person or persons who take care of the daily needs of a person who cannot take care of themselves. The caregiver’s purpose is to help the person with activities including getting dressed, eating, taking medication, getting bathed, taking them to the doctor and other needs of daily life.
Because of the personal nature and relationship of the caregiver, the situation is conducive to caregiver fraud. Caregiver fraud can include physical or emotional harm to the elderly, identity theft, monetary theft or embezzlement, forgery and other types of personal violations and misconduct. These violations can be committed by both unpaid and paid caregivers. Licensed caregivers have also been known to violate the elderly. The number of instances of caregiver fraud not only in California but across the nation has risen dramatically over the past years and include a variety of unscrupulous acts such as stealing credit cards, posing as a physician and charging for services never performed. It is important that family members and friends keep a diligent awareness of the activities of a caregiver for signs of caregiver fraud and financial crimes.
Who Is At Risk?
The majority of people who depend on caregiver services include the disabled, elderly and sick. These people are dependent on others and, as a result, are the most at risk to caregiver fraud. They are also the target for fraudulent caregivers. Fraudulent caregivers knowingly plan how they can use the weakness and dependency of the people whom they care for to infiltrate their life and commit fraud and harm against them for their own gain.
When a caregiver provides services to an elderly or disabled person, they usually gain access to that person’s financial and other personal information. This access typically results in the caregiver having unlimited access to that person’s bank and financial accounts and personal records. When a caregiver is allowed freedom to get access to this sensitive information, it creates opportunity for caregiver fraud.
Types of Financial Caregiver Theft and Caregiver Fraud
Financial Theft: Because a caregiver cares for people who are not physically able to care for themselves, the caregiver easily has opportunity to search through and access financial and other personal records. Financial theft can occur by manipulating the elder to sign checks under false pretenses, forging the elder’s signature on checks, using credit cards without their approval, and even taking out loans under the elder’s name without the dependent’s knowledge.
Identify Theft: Access to identifying personal information is an easy recipe for identify theft. Information can be manipulated and used to open new bank accounts, credit card accounts and loans, all for the purpose of benefiting the caregiver. Access to credit card information to allow a caregiver to make routine purchases may seem necessary and harmless, but a caregiver with deceitful intent can later use that information to commit fraud.
Financial theft, forgery and embezzlement can be minimized by protecting financial documents and accounts. Hiring a professional fiduciary or having a trusted family member handle the finances is always wiser than having a caregiver handle financial matters.
Property Theft: The most vulnerable people subject to caregiver theft are those who do not live close to and are isolated from other family members. Having family members check in regularly will make sure that the elder is being properly cared for and their property is being preserved and protected. It is easy for a fraudulent caregiver to give the elder and the elder’s family an illusion of competence and trust. Regular reviews of an elder’s physical surroundings, well-being, bank accounts and other financial records should be made to bring attention to any possible misuse or of funds or property.
Other Types of Caregiver Theft and Fraud: There are many ways a dependent or elder person can be defrauded or harmed. Fraudulent caregivers can encourage and manipulate elders into changing their will or estate plans, paying for personal expenses of the caregiver or even setting up a new insurance policy naming the caregiver as beneficiary.
Caregiver Theft and Fraud – Signs and Symptoms
Individuals can become very creative in devising ways to take advantage of those who cannot care from themselves. I recently had a caregiver call the office on the phone and tell me that the elderly person she was caring for wanted to adopt her. When I asked her how long she had cared for this elderly person, she indicated she had only known her for 6 months! The following are some key signs of caregiver theft, fraud and/or abuse:
- Isolating the elder or dependent person from speaking to friends, family or other people.
- Accessing financial records, investments, financial accounts or estate planning documents.
- Suggest the dependent or elder person appoint the caregiver agent under a Power of Attorney.
- Withholding incoming mail from the dependent person or elder and their family.
- Random withdrawals of money from bank accounts for the dependent or elder person.
- Purchase or signing checks from bank accounts on behalf of the dependent or elder person.
- Setting up joint bank accounts with the caregiver, opening up new bank accounts or transfer existing bank accounts.
- Setting up new life insurance or medical insurance policies for the benefit of the caregiver.
California laws relating to Caregiver Abuse, Fraud and Theft
California Penal Code Section 368 defines a caregiver as:
Any person who has the care, custody or control of, or who stands in a position of trust with an elder or dependent adult.
When caregiver fraud has incurred, this same statute provides that these actions are punishable by law.
Caregiver fraud occurs when that person designated as a caregiver physically or financially abuses the dependent. This form of abuse usually begins with deception about the true identity or qualification of the caregiver.
Section 368 of the California Penal Code further identifies and lists specific actions against elders that are punishable by law. These actions against an elder or dependent adult include:
- willful infliction of bodily harm or death
- willfully causing or permitting them to suffer
- willful infliction of physical pain or mental suffering
- willfully causing or permitting them to be injured
- theft, embezzlement, forgery or fraud
- identity theft
- false imprisonment
Caregiver fraud comes in many forms and includes acts of physical harm or suffering, endangerment, forgery, identity theft, embezzlement, and theft. These acts can be committed by paid, unpaid, licensed or unlicensed caregivers, and sometimes, unfortunately, even by a family member.
How to Prevent Caregiver Theft, Abuse and Fraud
When hiring a caregiver, it is extremely important to conduct a background check and ask for references that can be verified. Remain proactive, stay informed and involved with activities pertaining to the dependent or elder person’s care. Rotate checking in with different family members. Sometimes something out-of-order can be overlooked by one family member but caught by another. Incorporate inquiring questions in routine conversations with the dependent or elder person that might alert you to a problem. Keep financial and personal records in a safe place, inaccessible to the caregiver.
What Resources are Available For Victims of Caregiver Theft, Fraud and Abuse?
If you suspect someone has committed caregiver theft, fraud or abuse, it should be immediately reported. The local police will contact the elder or dependent person, make an inquiry and issue a report. There are also senior legal assistant programs who are experienced with these types of situations.
If you need help with preparing legal documents for your loved one or setting up a conservatorship, contact A People’s Choice today.