The Case of the Missing Cash
(elderly with full time caregiver from a qualified agency)
By CAROLYN ROSENBLATT
Jan. 15, 2012
This really happened.
George is 90 and is generally doing well, but 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.
He withdrew another $1000. 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 I got the call about this case, I was more than a little frustrated. Gloria felt sorry for the thief! The caregiver's husband had walked out on her. She was struggling, the caregiver had been telling them. Well, 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 says. 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 we can stop further damage from lifting of cash. However, the prospect of identify theft and using other credit card numbers remains a risk. That risk can continue for many months, even years.
One of the worst parts of this story is that Gloria is not an assertive personality type and is very hesitant to take it upon herself to stop George from handling 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. Someone already had one credit card number and tried to use it.
The takeaway from this true and sad story is that we all need to keep a close watch on a 90 year old like George with memory problems.
Caregivers might be thieves to start with, or they might be in situations when 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.
No matter how good the employer agency or the background check, things happen and people can change when their financial situations worsen.
My personal take on this is that Gloria needs help to find the courage to stop putting her husband at risk for losing cash, or worse. 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.
My job is to coach her through this transition to managing all George's finances. I tell her what to tell George and how to keep him safe. I follow up. I nudge her along. My motivation is that I don't want them to become repeat victims of financial elder abuse. They can be if things don't change.
Elders can protect themselves best when they are willing to overcome their own resistance to change. But getting advice and acting on it are not the same thing. Those who love them need to help.
How about your family? Any vulnerable aging parents or other loved ones? You can be the one to be on the alert for their financial safety. You can look for the red flags, be smart about what you see and nip any trouble in the bud. Your attention can save a disaster from happening.