Crime Chat:  Hiring Home Health Aides

Crime Chat: Hiring Home Health Aides

The graying of America and the increased lifespan among our senior population has greatly expanded the need for home caregiving and other assisted living options for older adults. Oftentimes, basic in-home health care involves the hiring of a home health aide. Depending on the level of care required, a home health aide can spend anywhere from just several hours a day with a patient to being a “live­in” aide, a person who resides in the patient’s home. Regardless of the amount of time an aide is required to spend with a patient, patients frequently develop a trusting and caring relationship with these intimate strangers—which is why it is very disappointing whenever caregivers are the ones who financially exploit their vulnerable senior patients.

Approximately 40 percent of the criminal cases prosecuted by the Elder Fraud Unit of the Queens District Attorney’s Office involve financial exploitation committed by a home health aide. While the vast majority of home health aides are honest and hard-working individuals who serve an important and valuable function, vigilance is required to protect patients against potential financial exploitation. Here are some tips.

In the state, there are two primary types of home care agencies: licensed home care services agencies and certified home health agencies. In deciding the source from which to hire a home health aide, it is important to remember that hiring an aide from a licensed or certified home agency may help to ensure that the aide has had a sufficient background check and received proper training. Often, in investigating financial exploitation crimes committed by home health aides it is discovered that many health aides are not hired through an agency. Instead, referrals from well-meaning friends, neighbors, and other seniors are utilized to employ home health aides. Although well meaning, the procedure may result in the hiring of a home health aide who does not have the appropriate training or a person who had not successfully passed a background check.

Once a health aide is employed in your home, a patient should be careful not to provide their aide with access to their financial records and accounts. A number of the cases prosecuted by my office involve health aides who were given access to bank accounts by their patients. These patients were then exploited and taken advantage of through forgery, coercion, or trickery. For example, in one case, the health aide convinced her patient to allow the aide to manage her financial affairs. The patient was directed to write out several checks—totaling the astronomical sum of about $800,000—made payable to the aide for such routine items as groceries, cleaning services and appliances, when such services or products were never obtained.

Similarly, many patients, especially those who are non­ambulatory, give their health aide their debit cards or credit cards to make purchases for them. What frequently occurs is that an unscrupulous aide subsequently makes unauthorized purchases using the patient’s debit or credit card and often conceals such fraudulent activity by intercepting the patient’s mail. Another scheme involves the patient routinely withdrawing large sums of cash or small amounts of cash on a daily basis from their bank account while accompanied by their aide. Although bank video cameras often track these visits, it is at times difficult to prove that the patient made the withdrawals under duress or that the aide inappropriately received the cash from the patient.

To guard against financial exploitation by home health aides, patients should never relinquish their checking or savings account information to their aides. Remember, allowing your aide to use your credit or debit card may be deemed permission for use and ultimately prevent reimbursement from your financial institution in the event of theft or fraud. To assist in managing financial transactions, an independent third party—such as a trusted family member, friend or accountant—should be utilized.

My office is dedicated to assisting seniors in avoiding and preventing any form of financial exploitation. My staff is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to assist law enforcement and the public with any issues that may arise. Please call my office at (718) 286­6580 to be referred to a knowledgeable member of my Elder Fraud Unit for assistance.


By Queens DA Richard Brown


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