How to deal with potential theft by caregiver for elderly? Details inside.
February 17, 2012 8:22 AM   Subscribe

How to deal with potential theft by caregiver for elderly? Details inside.

My grandparents are in the their mid-90s. They live in their own home with a caregiver who has been with them for about 8 months. He is foreign and probably undocumented. (I did not hire him and don't know the arrangements.)

My grandmother called me yesterday and told me she believes that the caregiver has stolen a box of valuables. I do not know how valuable this stuff is, but I am guessing at least tens of thousands of dollars given what I know about the stuff. Obviously, this stuff should have been locked in a bank (too late).

My grandmother has asked me to come over and "interview" the caretaker.

I am very much hoping that the stuff is simply misplaced and that I will be able to find it when I go to her place this weekend. If that is the case, everything is great and there is no problem.

But - if the stuff cannot be found, I don't know what to do. Given the living arrangements, there really isn't anyone else who could have stolen the stuff. (They are in a high-security building and nobody else goes into their apt.; they also never leave their apt.)

The relatively easy part is that, if there was a theft, my grandparents probably need a new caretaker - either because this caretaker is the thief and/or my grandparents won't be comfortable with this person anymore anyway.

The harder part is this - my grandmother has some expectation that I can "interview" the guy or otherwise do something to get the stuff back. How does that work? I guess I could call the police - though I am very skeptical that this will accomplish anything and I am hesitant to bring the police in when there really isn't any "proof" that this guy did it. I have also thought about telling the guy - "look, if the stuff shows up, I will pay you $x in cash and we will all part ways without making this into a bigger issue" - very Hollywood, probably unrealistic.

Another part of me says: forget the stuff, it's gone, the only focus should be getting the grandparents good care that they are comfortable with.

Bottom line question: is there some way I should play this to (a) fix my grandparents' care situation; and (b) maximize the change of getting the valuables back?
posted by anonymous to Grab Bag (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Do not jump to any conclusions. At this point, you only know what she's told you. Go a look for the stuff this weekend. If you don't find it, I would bring it up in casual conversation with him. Ask him if he knows where the box is or was moved to. If he denies knowing anything, then you call the cops to report a theft (not necessarily by him) and let them handle any investigation. If you know anything about the items that were in the box, consider calling around to local pawn shops and checking craigslist. While I'm sure she is a wonderful woman, be aware age can do funny things to a persons mind and make them act in ways that aren't always logical.
posted by cosmicbandito at 8:34 AM on February 17, 2012 [8 favorites]

I guess I could call the police - though I am very skeptical that this will accomplish anything and I am hesitant to bring the police in when there really isn't any "proof" that this guy did it.

This makes it sound like the issue is getting cloudy for you. You bring the police in if tens of thousands of dollars of property has gone missing, not when you have a suspect, but because they may be able to do things to find the money or advise on how to stop being robber again. So it would be good if you could get a bit more fo a lock on what has been stolen - description, value etc, and then call the police. Is there insurance? That will need a police report to claim.

You are going to get nothing from talking to this guy, apart from convincing denials. And if he is the thief admitting he has the stuff to get a reward is going to get him fired and possible police involvement, so unlikely to bite.
posted by biffa at 8:35 AM on February 17, 2012 [3 favorites]

As a baseline above and beyond the theft issue I would figure out the hiring/employment issue. It may be a bit of a stretch to say "He is foreign and probably undocumented" especially as you said you don't know the situation. So, Find out the situation, is it a company that hired him who are they? are they reputable? Are your relatives getting services trough somebody or some agency, or did they hire him out of a personally placed help wanted ad? Do they have a county case manager? If it is a company, and they are even marginally decent then 1. they won't be hiring undocumented workers and 2. after making sure the valuables are not just mislaid the company will want to know about possible theft. Don't know where you are but most people in these positions go trough at least nominal background checks.

And yeah, if after a very good search if it doesn't show up, get the police involved.
posted by edgeways at 8:55 AM on February 17, 2012

Go round and look everywhere for the box. If it's definitely missing, call the police and report a theft, then call the insurance company if it's insured.

At no point accuse this person, either to the police or to their face. By all means ask if they've seen it, but it's the police's job to investigate crime. I agree you may have to find a new carer, and the best thing you can do is make sure the next one has all their paperwork and references in order.
posted by dumdidumdum at 8:55 AM on February 17, 2012 [5 favorites]

It's not your job to try and question a suspect. That's the police's job.

You know the following things:
When the items were last seen
Descriptions of the items (or at least you'll know this soon, right?)
Approximate values of the items
Names and contact information for everyone who has access to the house

Then you make a police report. Don't call them, go down to the station. Theft by caregivers is common and the police will be compassionate. Just bring them that info and let them do their jobs. Ask them if you should put the caretaker on leave or if they think you should continue to employ him or her for the time being.

The police are qualified to question suspects and will be able to get a warrant to search the caretaker's house if there is probable cause. If the items are not there, the police will reach out to local pawnshops, etc., to try and find where the items have ended up.

This is super common, sadly. Report it to the police. (Have I said that enough?) They know what to do.
posted by juniperesque at 8:55 AM on February 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't know your relatives but from experience I wouldn't be too sure things had been stolen until you get there and look for yourself. One of the first signs my Grandmother was starting to have "problems" as she called it was she would accuse people of stealing things, when what had happened was that she would hide things in weird spots to keep them safe and forget where she had put them.

After she passed 9 years later her family found numerous items she swore had been stolen hidden inside furniture, behind dressers, hidden in coat pockets etc. She had a huge stash of cash hidden inside a jar in the toilet cistern, a copy of her will was hidden under a corner of the carpet in her lounge room and they only found that when they where replacing the carpet years later. Not saying this is what your Grandparents have done, but it might be worth having a good look around before doing anything.

Ask the caretaker if they have seen anything, don't let them know they are suspected, if you do it casually enough their reaction might help you determine if you think they did anything, you don't want to spook them into doing a runner until the police get involved. If you can't find the item, call the police and tell them what you've said here, if the theft is for as much as you say the police really would be the best people to help. If there is insurance you will most likely have to file a police report anyway.
posted by wwax at 8:56 AM on February 17, 2012 [15 favorites]

Search the crap out of the house first. My grandparents kept accusing their caretaker of stealing stuff and then my mom would find it when she came over.

Indeed the "firing the maid/servant/caretaker because you think they stole something" is one of the most infuriating cliches of period literature.
posted by Jon_Evil at 8:58 AM on February 17, 2012 [7 favorites]

Have you met this guy before? What does your gut tell you about him?

I don't see any realistic benefit to approaching this guy. Unless you feel in your heart like he's a trustworthy person and need to approach it from a human perspective. He either *is not* the thief and can't give you an explanation, or *is* the thief and will get rid of the stolen goods (if he hasn't already) in preparation for the police questioning him later. Basically, you'd be giving him a warning.

The police deal with things like this all of the time - it's their job. They aren't going to assume that he's guilty automatically, and will handle the situation for you.

If this were me, the first thing I would do is talk to my grandma IN DETAIL about where this stuff was put, and search the house, outside the house, etc etc before calling the police.

The only sticky situation I can see is that if you go to the police and he's undocumented but innocent, he could be deported and you could be responsible for ruining someone's life. Something to think about. It's a tough situation - good luck.
posted by sarahnicolesays at 9:00 AM on February 17, 2012

you could be responsible for ruining someone's life.

I recant this. Sorry. It wouldn't be your fault that he failed to go through the proper channels and that his presence is illegal. I'm sorry that I posted this. Word Vomit.
posted by sarahnicolesays at 9:04 AM on February 17, 2012

My great-aunt had caregivers who took advantage of her and stole paintings. My grandmother was forgetful and misplaced things.

Right now, you don't know:

1) whether something is missing or misplaced
2) when it went missing

Was the item last seen two years ago, or last month? Ask when she saw it last. How long could it have been missing before she noticed?

If it were my grandmom, I'd ask her where it might be and look with her for it. If I had any doubts about her memory, I would also contact relatives and ask if they might know about it (perhaps one got it as a gift and grandmom forgot).

If I was then confident that the item went missing while the caregiver was around, I would look for other items that might be missing - is there a pattern? Is there also a pattern of your grandmom misplacing things or forgetting them?
posted by zippy at 9:04 AM on February 17, 2012

Also, what wwax said. My grandmom had things hidden away all over the house.
posted by zippy at 9:05 AM on February 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

I came in to say what wwax said.
posted by hermitosis at 9:17 AM on February 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

First of all - echoing what wwax and others have said, people with dementia can be both forgetful and paranoid. They misplace stuff and then accuse others of stealing it. Since my dad has gone to live in a care home for the second time after his living at home with me wasn't workable anymore - I've been finding all kinds of stuff stashed here and there; the cliched money in the pillowcase, a bank card he thought was "stolen" was stashed in his underwear drawer, stuff like that. And yes, he was accusing me, the gardener, the neighbors, etc. of stealing from him when in fact the stuff was misplaced.

So you want to determine if the stuff in question really is missing or if it's just misplaced. Go over there and tear the place apart and if you find the stuff, that's the first problem solved.

If it is missing, then go to the police.

Second - is the caregiver from an agency or someone hired independently? If he's from an agency and he did steal the valuables, notify the agency; the good agencies are licensed and bonded to cover that eventuality. They also screen their employees (again, the good agencies, the sketchy ones are different). I always think it best to go through a good agency to get home health care, and yes, it's more expensive, but you do get what you pay for.

If he's some guy off of Craigslist and he stole the stuff - chances are your only recourse is the police and firing the guy. In either case, you do want to talk to your grandparents before you (or they) fire him, unless they are incompetent. Who has POA?

In the future - can family, friends, your grandparents' clergy-person, neighbors, any friendly face - make it a point to drop by and visit at least once a week? Caregiver theft is more likely to happen if the thief believes that no-one will notice or care or speak up. And if there is no theft, but rather dementia and confusion, having social interactions might help head off feelings of paranoia and isolation (not to mention, they can help keep the place clean and find lost items - "Oh, Grandma, you put your jewelry in the crisper drawer again.").
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 9:30 AM on February 17, 2012

If you do end up hiring someone else to care for your grandparents, don't forget to change the locks on their door as soon as possible.

Personally, I think you should get a new caregiver regardless of whether or not this guy took their stuff, because your grandparents don't sound like they are comfortable with him around anymore. Make sure to use a service that requires background checks to help protect your grandparents from this kind of thing ever happening again. And it would be worth it to gather and catalogue whatever valuables are left and then store them at your place or some other trustworthy family member's home so the next caregiver is not even tempted to take them.
posted by wherever, whatever at 9:37 AM on February 17, 2012

I agree with sarahnicolesays's first comment, before she recanted. I would want to be pretty sure before I went to the police and accused him. Who knows why he's undocumented, and as I see it, it's none of your business to report him just for that. It's mandatory for undocumented people to be thrown in detention and they have no legal right to representation.

I'd do a thorough search to make sure the stuff wasn't just misplaced, put any other valuables in the bank, and have a talk with the caretaker about the stuff that's missing. If you wrongly accuse him to his face, that's one thing, but involving the police is a much more serious thing. He's going to know that, and who knows, maybe the stuff will reappear. It might be "too Hollywood," but I'd consider saying something like "I won't go to the police if you return the stuff/give me money" (it's probably fenced/pawned anyway).
posted by desjardins at 11:37 AM on February 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

My family dealt with this....part of the jewelry ended up being "recovered"--the caregiver put it back in a new place and "found" it, part was later discovered in a safe deposit box that my grandmother had forgotten about, and part I think was never found. My family had used an agency to hire the caregiver so the agency handled the part about firing the caregiver and replacing her, which was great. I can't speak to how to handle the missing stuff, but I can strongly, strongly recommend you go through an agency in the future to hire a caregiver. Do some serious research before deciding on a service. It is more expensive but it's a lot safer--you have someone else to handle the ick stuff, background checks etc are taken care of, the caregiver gets better benefits, you have someone to send in a sub if the caregiver gets sick/has a family emergency/wants to go on vacation/etc, and you have a resource to help with the other issues. The agency was extremely helpful when my grandfather was dying and as we've had to help my grandmother adjust to being on her own. I can't recommend hiring a reputable agency enough; my family has felt the extra cost is SO worth it.

I'm sorry you have to deal with this. It totally sucks. I was so furious when this happened in my family.
posted by min at 6:48 AM on February 18, 2012

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