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Posted: March 28, 2005

Practical Caregiving

Identify Theft: Specific Safeguards for Caregivers

As a family caregiver, we want to protect our loved ones from everything. We want them to be ?spoiled? the same way we would spoil a child. We want them to eat the best food, be the cleanest possible, take the best medicine for every problem they have, and above all, be safe and feel secure.

Part of their security comes from their knowing they have enough money. Whether it comes from Social Security, retirement plans or their personal savings and investments, they want to have enough money to take care of their needs the rest of their life so they won?t be a burden to their loves ones.

But what if someone cons them out of their savings? The elderly or ill ? or even harried caregivers -- are easy prey.

When I was taking care of my parents, we traveled some the first two years. Whenever we went to a grocery store, Dad would push Mom in a wheelchair while I walked up and down the isles to get what we needed. One time when we were in Arizona, I noticed a lady who was very obviously watching Mom and Dad. She finally walked up to them and started talking. I turned my cart around and went over to them. She left. When I went down another isle she walked over to them again, so I went over to them.

She asked who I was, and I told her I was their daughter. She said something I will never forget, ?I bet I can love them more than you can.? I said something like, ?Oh?? Then she left. I went down another isle and she went over to them again. I went over to them and stayed with them this time. She said the same thing, then she told me she took care of people like my parents. She said she took their Social Security checks to take care of them and that the ones she took care of were very happy.

Then she said she could, ?love them more than I could.? I looked at her and told her I liked them too and that I was taking care of them. We bought what we needed and quickly left. As we drove away I watched to make sure she wasn?t following us. Afterward I realized that she didn?t say anything that would get her in trouble legally, but she did let me and my parents know that she wanted to take care of them for their money.

My uncle needed help on a daily basis. His daughter and her husband chose the in-home care person and tried to make sure she was honest and took good care of him. My son-in-law bought a safe, put a couple thousand dollars in it, and showed my uncle how to open it. My cousin checked on him at least once a week. A month or two later my uncle very nervously told my cousin that he needed more money. My cousin asked if he still had the money in the safe and my uncle said he did. My cousin didn?t look in it, though.

A couple weeks later, my uncle again said he needed more money. He said he forgot how to open the safe and needed money for food. My cousin went to the store and bought food. This went on until my uncle died. Then my cousin found that the money in the safe was gone and money from the checking account was also missing. What a shock!

Identity theft ? and just plain theft -- in the elderly is often called financial abuse. That?s what the lady was trying to do to my parents. Take their information, money and who knows what else.

That was an easy situation to evaluate and then protect my parents because I saw it happen and I was there. But, what other situations should you watch for to protect your loved one? What about the times you are not there? What are the signs that they may be the victim of identity theft or financial abuse?

  1. Has their personality changed?
  2. Have they withdrawn from you?
  3. Are they depressed?
  4. Are they fearful or nervous?
  5. Do you see anxiety that shouldn?t be there?
  6. Are they missing money or always asking for more money than they need?
  7. Is there any unusual activity in their bank accounts?
  8. Are there frequent checks written for cash or to their caregiver?
  9. Do the signatures on their checks look different than their signature?
  10. Do they have all the food and medicine they need?
  11. Are there any new acquaintances or distant relatives who give them a lot of extra time and attention or moves in with them?
  12. Are they or their caregiver reluctant to spend money on their food, medicine or care?
  13. Does their caregiver try to isolate them from old friends and family?
  14. Has your loved one changed their will recently?
  15. Has your loved one changed to a living trust so they can have easier access to their money?
  16. Have they attended a free seminar put on by a senior advisor or medi-cal specialist to promote various estate planning services (such as Medi-Cal in California)?
  17. Go over all information sent by Medicare or other government agency to make sure the services were actually provided.
  18. Is their Social Security card, checkbook and other important documents still where they should be?

The person taking money from your loved one may be a family member, in-home caregiver, stranger, or people who work at adult day-care centers or nursing homes. Always be on the alert for any person or scam trying to take your loved ones identity information and money. It does happen more often than we want to believe.

© 2005 Pederson Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Commercial use, redistribution or other forms of reuse of this information is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission of Pederson Publishing.

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Please send me your questions, comments and issues regarding the practical side of caregiving at ASKJEAN@caregivershome.com, and remember to take advantage of our professionals and experts in the Ask an Expert section of our website. You'll find it in the left column on our homepage.

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