Older Americans are ready targets for exploitation and abuse. Unfortunately, sometimes the sources of exploitation are caregivers or others the person trusts. Loved ones and friends can take action to prevent such abuse and to catch it before it gets too far. Consider taking the following actions.
Be involved. Even if you have no legal standing, you can visit with the person regularly. Visits at different times of the day and week, and make some visits unannounced.
During your visits, note how the caregiver interacts with the person and treats him or her. See if the residence is being cleaned and maintained. Poke around the kitchen to get an idea of how the person is eating.
Try to be alone with the person by going for a walk or a meal. When alone, listen carefully to your friend or loved one. Try to get an idea of what the caregiver is doing and how he or she is acting.
Check credit reports. If you are able, get copies of the loved one’s credit reports one or twice annually. You’ll need a power of attorney or the loved one’s request. Examine the reports for unusual activity.
Review financial statements. You will need a power of attorney or a request from the loved one to get duplicate statements sent to you. Or you can ask the loved one if he or she would like you to review them. Some experts advise having the loved one change the mailing address for financial statements to a post office box to which the caregiver does not have access.
If you are able to review the statements, again you are looking for unusual activity. Determine how the person’s money is being spent and how assets are being managed.
Require bonding. A caregiver should be bonded to cover losses from theft, exploitation, or other actions. If the caregiver works for an agency, the agency should have professional liability insurance. Ask for proof of coverage.
Check an agency’s methods. When a caregiver is hired through an agency, ask about its ethics training. Also, ask for specifics about its “background check.” Many only look for a criminal record with the state police.
A thorough investigation will search nationwide for criminal convictions, outstanding warrants, civil judgments, liens, bankruptcies, sex offenses, and professional licenses and actions by licensing authorities. Previous addresses, employment, and education also should be verified. You can have a thorough check done for about $400. The search can be conducted online at sites such as www.choicepoint.com, www.databaserecords-.com, and www.backtracker.com.
Have a contract. An agency will have a standard contract, but you can ask to modify it. You might want to prohibit the caregiver from accepting gifts from the loved one or handling money. (There is some doubt whether a contract barring gifts is enforceable.) Some also recommend a provision that bars the caregiver from running errands without the permission of a loved one.
Investigate new friends. If a new friend or companion suddenly is spending a lot of time around the residence, consider having him or her checked out. You could begin with a background check as described above. Or you could hire a private investigator to look into things.