WPCNR WESTCHESTER DISTRICT ATTORNEY CRIME ALERT Special to WPCNR by Janet DiFiore, Westchester County District Attorney. September 30, 2015
Financial elder abuse is on the rise and tragically the elderly are often taken advantage of by the very people hired to care for them. We’re talking about in-home health care aids. While most are dedicated to helping their clients, some are using these jobs to help themselves to cash, jewelry and anything else they can steal.
Home health care aides are often hired to take care of general house cleaning, shopping, meal preparation and assistance with personal hygiene. These services are intended to help older adults remain in the home. Care givers can be hired through a licensed agency or informally, through word of mouth or advertisements in local newspapers. There are important differences between these ways of hiring a home health aide.
In New York, agencies that provide home health aides must be licensed and insured. They provide training for their employees and must conduct criminal background checks. Informal sources for home health aides such as newspaper advertisements or acquaintances are subject to no such requirements or protections.
Thefts by dishonest home health aides often begin with cash or jewelry in the home. In extreme cases, dishonest aides have emptied victims’ bank accounts by using ATM cards or by forging checks. An elderly victim may not be aware of the thefts and, even when victims become aware, they may be too fearful or embarrassed to let anyone know.
Here are some tips that can help prevent older Westchester residents from becoming victims of these crimes:
- Hire a home health aide through a reputable licensed agency.
- If you do hire a home health aide from a private source, don’t rely on an advertisement or word of mouth. Check the aide’s work history and personal references thoroughly and carefully.
- Don’t involve a home health aide in banking or financial tasks such as withdrawals from ATM’s. Don’t share PINS’s and passwords with an aide, and don’t write them in accessible locations such as on the cards themselves.
- If an elderly person needs help managing finances, set up a system with checks and balances. Consider asking two trusted friends or family members to assist with banking and bills so that they can serve as a check on each other, and can help oversee access to cash and valuables in the home.
- Review all bank and credit card statements regularly to check for fraudulent withdrawals or charges, and don’t hesitate to raise questions about any unexplained items.
- Keep valuables, checkbooks, cash and credit, debit and ATM cards in a secure, locked drawer or cabinet.
- Keep a photographic inventory of rare, valuable or sentimental items in a separate location. In the event these are stolen, the photos will be useful in seeking to recover the items.
Family members, friends and neighbors of the elderly should always be alert to any signs that an aide is isolating an elderly person or assuming inappropriate roles such as managing finances. The best course is to report any concerns or suspicions to the caregiver agency, adult protective services or to the police. Most home health aides are honest, hardworking and committed to helping their clients, but it is important to be aware that there are criminals who use these jobs as opportunities to commit crimes.