When a home care company assists in placing a caregiver in a private home, a relationship based on trust begins. There is trust in the caregiver’s knowledge and ability to provide care, as well as trust concerning personal property in the home.
Family caregivers are committed to ensuring their loved one’s physical safety, but they are also concerned about protecting their finances and material possessions when hiring outside care. Fortunately, there are a number of proactive steps that can be taken to significantly reduce the risk of caregiver theft.
Choose the Right Home Care Company
Each family has their own priorities and standards when hiring a professional caregiver for a senior, but a sense of safety and reliability is paramount for all. Choosing a licensed and insured company offers greater stability and fewer risks compared to hiring an independent caregiver. When conversing with prospective providers, be sure to inquire about how they insure against theft. A reputable company will be thorough in its screening methods and bond its caregivers.
“We have coverage for insurance in case of theft,” says Peter Ross, CEO and co-founder of Senior Helpers, a nationwide in-home care franchise. “We're hoping we never have to use it, but at the same time, we provide families with the comfort that there is insurance in place in case anything ever happens.”
Ensuring that the company meets your standards will help you feel confident in your decision and give you peace of mind. Ask the questions below to get a feel for a provider’s internal procedures and commitment to client safety and satisfaction.
- How do you vet your employees?
- Do you run a nationwide or countywide criminal search, conduct drug screening, and/or perform a credit check?
- How often are drug screenings and criminal searches repeated on existing employees?
- Are all employees subject to the same standards? (For example, are office staff members also required to pass a background check?)
- Do you bond your caregivers? What is the bond amount?
- What is the procedure for filing a complaint? What is the procedure for investigating a complaint?
Read the full list of interview questions for selecting a quality home care company here.
Secure and Catalog All Valuables
The most certain method of preventing expensive and cherished items from disappearing is to secure or remove them from the home before services begin. If no temptations are present, it greatly reduces the potential for problems.
Make a complete inventory list of any valuable possessions that are kept in the home, whether secured or not. Photograph each item and note its location and value. Should anything disappear, these detailed records will be available to help corroborate claims and guide an investigation. Don’t forget to update your records to reflect the location/status of any items that are given to other family members for safe keeping, legitimately sold or placed in storage.
Take inventory of all prescription medications as well, especially opioid painkillers, stimulants, and sedatives. If a senior takes a number of these medications, it may be wise to store the pill bottles in a lockbox and organize individual doses in a daily or weekly pill box for added security and transparency.
It can be a challenge deciding what to do with cash, checkbooks, and debit and credit cards. This decision involves weighing the senior’s independence regarding financial decisions and the level of security desired. For example, seniors with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia should probably not carry credit or debit cards to prevent rash spending on their part and reduce the chances of someone exerting undue influence. A small amount of cash is usually safe for a senior to keep in their wallet, but any additional cash, checkbooks and bank cards should either be kept offsite by a family member or in a secure location in the house.
An additional step in securing a senior’s finances involves regularly monitoring all of their accounts for unusual activity. If you see new or increasing charges, missing monthly deposits or other red flags, it is important to act quickly. Keep in mind that these changes could indicate any number of things, such as a senior’s declining mental condition or a caregiver or other outside individual who is acting dishonestly.
Many families install video cameras, also known as “nanny cams,” in common areas throughout the home for added reassurance. This protective measure offers the capability to monitor both the effectiveness and honesty of your caregiver. Whether or not to inform the caregiver of the cameras is entirely up to you, but it may impact the trust aspect of your relationship. It is important to consider that the resulting videos may be beneficial to both parties, as caregivers can use them for vindication or to demonstrate concerning behaviors a client’s family should be made aware of. Laws apply to certain aspects of video and audio recording, so be sure to check your state’s statutes regarding consent and privacy.
How to Handle Suspected Caregiver Theft
Unfortunately, problems can still occur even when all the above precautions are taken. If suspicions arise that someone is stealing from a senior, there are some important steps to take (and avoid) when rectifying the situation.
Don’t Jump to Conclusions
Even petty theft is a serious accusation. While these matters should be dealt with swiftly, it is important to do some preliminary investigating of your own before jumping to conclusions. If an item is missing from its usual location, search the home. New caregivers may put things in the wrong place since they are still getting used to how the house is organized.
Seniors with dementia often forget where they’ve placed things, or even purposely hide money and other objects for “safekeeping.” They may then insist someone has been stealing from them when the items can’t be found. Be especially cautious when handling these accusations.
Sometimes belongings are misplaced by the senior and found the day after accusations are made, Ross says. “Make sure the item is actually missing first, and try to be patient,” he advises.
Ask the senior if they took any of the missing medication themselves or if they witnessed a caregiver putting money or other items in their pockets or purse. Check your inventory records to account for all other items of value to see if anything else is missing. Do NOT confront the caregiver directly about your suspicion.
Alert the Appropriate Authorities
Whom to notify and when depends entirely on the nature of the missing items. A family may not feel comfortable contacting the police over an elusive $25, but if it goes unaddressed this time around, it may happen again.
Even if no concrete proof of wrongdoing is available, the company should listen to the circumstances and cooperate fully with the family. Ross says one family came to him saying $10 was missing, so he deducted $10 from their next invoice. In clear instances where something like a debit card or an expensive heirloom has gone missing, it’s important to exhaust the possibilities above and then move forward, treating it as a theft.
Notify a manager at the home care company about your concerns, but again, do not address this with the individual caregiver(s). The benefit of hiring services through a licensed company is that the administration will handle these matters directly, sparing the family much of the discomfort that comes with questioning the caregiver. The company will typically request a formal complaint from you, cancel the current caregivers’ scheduled shifts, provide substitute caregivers while they conduct an investigation, and file a claim for reimbursement from their insurance company.
Contacting the police early on, or at least advising the company’s administrators of this intention is an important measure as well. Companies should take these claims very seriously. If they do not, lodge a complaint with their licensing/regulatory authority and then find a new home care company. If the company is bonded, they will have to report the suspected theft to their insurance company, who does their own investigation, Ross adds.
If a checkbook or credit card is stolen, notify the financial institution immediately. They will most likely monitor the account for any unauthorized transactions or fraudulent activity and work to change the account information. It is wise to notify administrators at the home care company that this has been done.
The Best Protection Against Theft
These unfortunate circumstances do occur, and it is best practice to take preventative measures and thoroughly vet providers and caregivers in the very beginning. If something suspicious transpires, knowing exactly what to do will help in remaining calm and communicating through the proper channels to rectify the situation.