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Anatomy of a Scam: Caregiver

Posted on Tuesday, October 10, 2023
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by Outside Contributor
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Young persons hands holding a seniors hands - Caregiver scams concept

Courtesy of Travelers Insurance

Caregiver scams target some of the most vulnerable among us, including those needing extra care or supervision due to medical, physical, or mental health needs. For example, caregivers may have access to their patient’s identity and personal information, or even to their cash, credit cards, and valuables. This can lead to easy opportunities to steal from unsuspecting victims.

While most caregivers don’t commit fraud, it can be difficult to determine which ones would if given the chance. If you or a loved one relies on a caregiver, it’s critical to keep an eye out and know how to spot potential signs of scams.

How Caregiver Scams Work

Caregiver scams are a type of trusted person abuse.1 Trusted person abuse is when a caregiver, family member, or friend, takes advantage of a vulnerable person. The scammer spends time with the victim, helping with their daily needs, so the victim trusts them and may not recognize they’re being scammed.

Unfortunately, it’s the closeness of the caregiver relationship that can open the door for the fraudster to begin stealing. Because the lines of these relationships may blur, it’s not uncommon for caregivers to start managing the patient’s finances, with some taking money for themselves. And since many of these cases go unreported, the stolen funds may never be recovered.2

Here are a few of the more common ways some caregivers scam their victims:

  • Improper financial actions. The scammer gets access to their victim’s bank account. They may withdraw money, buy things the victim doesn’t need, or give jobs to fellow scammers.3
  • Physical isolation. Getting out of the house is a struggle for some older Americans who need care. Caregiver scammers use this disadvantage to keep their victims away from friends and family who would question suspicious behavior.3
  • Exploitation of legal guardianship. Some victims rely on guardians to track and take care of their finances. While a guardian has a fiduciary duty to act in their best interest, some may use this as an opportunity to transfer funds or drain the patient’s estate.4

Once the fraudster has access to personal and financial information, it’s easy for them to steal from their victim. In fact, in 2021, the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center Elder Fraud Report found that over 90,000 victims lost an average of $18,246 and over 3,000 victims lost more than $100,000.5

A Common Example of a Caregiver Scam

The fictional story of Mike Jones and his father, Joseph, shows an example of a typical caregiver scam. While Mike and Joseph aren’t real people, this scenario closely represents what can occur.

Mike Jones lives four hours away from his father, Joseph, a widower who’s begun to show signs of memory issues. As an only child, Mike and his wife Tonya want to help Joseph get care, but they can’t move closer until their kids graduate high school in another year.

Mike went online and searched caregivers in Joseph’s area. After speaking with someone both on the phone and in person, Mike and Tonya felt comfortable with the caregiver. Joseph would have someone in the home to keep him company and care for some of his medical needs for the time being.

After a few weeks, Mike noticed his communication with Joseph slowing down. He thought it might be due to Joseph having someone around, making him less lonely. A month later, Tonya spoke to Joseph and got worried. She learned he’d hired one of his caregiver’s friends to repair things around the house, tasks Mike usually did.

The following weekend, Mike and Tonya visited Joseph to check on him. The caretaker was nowhere to be found. They discovered the caretaker convinced Joseph to hand over his checkbook to pay bills and get work done on the house. Concerned, Mike logged into Joseph’s bank account and saw that the fraudster cashed over $10,000 in checks.

Ways to Help Avoid Caregiver Scams

Caregiver scams are just one of many common financial scams older Americans face, but they can be particularly tough to spot. To help avoid these scams:

  • Do your due diligence. If hiring a caregiver for yourself or a loved one, look for a licensed and bonded professional agency. Confirm their insurance and the type of background checks they perform on caregivers.6
  • Ask for references. Before deciding on a caregiver, ask for references from their previous clients. If they don’t provide them, consider it a red flag and that this person may not be trustworthy.6
  • Monitor finances and limit access. You may want to take control of your loved ones’ financial information so they can’t give others access. Caregivers could target bank or credit card accounts for financial fraud. So, make it a habit to review statements monthly, looking for unfamiliar withdrawals or charges. Or consider hiring a qualified third party to monitor funds.
  • Educate yourself. The U.S. Administration for Community Living has a searchable list of local resources to find help in your community. You can find support for reporting scammers, including legal services and counseling.7

Stay Vigilant

Caregiver scams are scary. Not only are they aimed at vulnerable people, the victim or their loved ones  may not realize the fraud took place until after it happened. But, by knowing what to look for and staying vigilant, you can help protect yourself from this type of crime.

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Sources:

  1. https://www.justice.gov/elderjustice/mistreatment-and-abuse-guardians-and-other-fiduciaries
  2. https://files.consumerfinance.gov/f/documents/cfpb_recovering-from-elder-financial- exploitation_report_09-2022.pdf
  3. https://www.justice.gov/file/1523276/download
  4. https://www.michigan.gov/-/media/Project/Websites/AG/consumer-education/FINAL_NonMedical_Home_Care_Agency_Checklist.pdf?rev=88135f1ecc7c4080a22436b958468cb5
  5. https://eldercare.acl.gov/Public/index.aspx
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Robert Zuccaro
Robert Zuccaro
8 months ago

My mom reimburses me for her food, prescriptions, gas, etc. I have to keep receipts because, sooner or later, the IRS will question why I get X dollars in a personal check each month. Now THAT’S a scam!

Kathy L Toms
Kathy L Toms
8 months ago

My Father lived in Ocenside Calif and I live in Alaska. My fathers girlfriend “Borrowed” money from him all the time. When I confronted her about it she lied. I talked with her son. He told me she was a gambler and liar when it came to her gambling. I took control of his finances. She then got a hold of his debit card. What got me was the fact that she was taking $200 each time. Most of the time once or twice a month. I would have given her that money for taking care of my dad! I had to put him in a memory care facility. She agreed to move out of the house. When the time came she stated ” you know I have rights!” Luckly for me she stole another $200. I cancelled the debit card and informed her son that I was contemplating Elder financial abuse. She moved out 2 weeks later!

Linda
Linda
8 months ago

As a caregiver, it hurts my heart knowing someone would do this to an elder. If at all possible, I implore family members to take charge of their loved ones finances. And to keep a close watch. Aside from just the caregiver, there are others-maintenance workers, nurses, volunteers, etc-that can get access to information. It’s very sad to have to worry about any of these people taking advantage, but it happens and there are opportunists everywhere.

Marta V Alvarez
Marta V Alvarez
8 months ago

This only reinforces the fear we feel as we get older, knowing that one day we will have to relay on a caregiver. The perspective of trusting a stranger gets more and grim, no matter how many precautions we take. But thank you for giving us tools that we can use when the time comes to ameliorate the potential abuse.

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