Local Jewish elderly scammed by home health care workers

Local Jewish elderly scammed by home health care workers

Several of Pittsburgh’s Jewish elderly in Squirrel Hill have been the target of a recent spate of criminal activity perpetrated by scammers posing as private home health caregivers, according to Mary Anne Foley, chief operating officer of the Jewish Association on Aging.

The perpetrators engage in identity theft, credit card theft and fraudulent check-writing and work for the same purported home health care company, Foley said. Particular criminal acts range from the home care worker opening new credit cards and charging goods under the elderly victim’s name to convincing the victim to go to the bank and withdraw large sums of money to give to the worker.

Foley declined to release the name of the organization with which the alleged offenders are working because the investigation is ongoing.

Foley was contacted several weeks ago by Pittsburgh Police Det. Frank Rosato about the thefts. He inquired whether there had been reports of any wrongdoing by private duty caregivers in any of the JAA’s facilities.

None of the people Rosato identified as suspected perpetrators were working in buildings operated by the JAA, Foley said.

There had been reports of illicit activity by a private duty caregiver at Weinberg Terrace in the recent past, Foley said, so a few months ago, the JAA established a strict policy of enforcement of its rules pertaining to outside workers.

“We had reason to believe that there were people in our buildings who were not vetted through our company,” Foley said.

The JAA engaged in a series of meetings with the families of residents to stress the imperative of enforcing the organization’s rules concerning private duty help, including mandatory drug tests, FBI checks and required insurance liability coverage.

Many families were not on board with strict enforcement of the rules, Foley said.

“We had hostile family meetings because people didn’t get it,” she said. “When we started enforcing these rules, there were family members not complying. We had lots of pushback from lots of people. Some said, ‘My person is not willing to [undergo checks or drug testing].’ Well, then maybe that’s not really the person you want to take care of your mother.”

The same types of precautions and checks that one undergoes in the hiring of a nanny for a child should be employed when hiring an aid for an elderly relative, according to Foley.

Most outside caregivers working in JAA buildings come from either Home Instead or Jewish Family & Children’s Service. Both agencies are approved by the JAA, said Foley.

Still, the JAA faces issues of “leakage,” Foley said, with unscreened workers attempting to sign in as visitors in order to gain unofficial access to elderly employers.

The bulk of health care worker scams are perpetrated in private homes rather than in JAA buildings, Foley said, and many times, the incidents are not reported.

“Many of these folks don’t want to make an issue of it because they are embarrassed they were taken advantage of,” she said. “They don’t want to make waves. And the people coming in know that, that they won’t do anything about it.”

“I was very enlightened and surprised when I met with the JAA staff, and they informed me that the community doesn’t come forward to authorities when these crimes are committed due to embarrassment,” said Rosato. “If they don’t call us, we can’t stop it; it’s very important.

“Elderly parents’ children need to run their parents’ credit reports on one of the numerous applications that are available, such as LifeLock or Credit Karma, to monitor their credit,” he added. “It is a great tool–I use it myself–to keep track of any unauthorized transactions to victim’s credit, and is very inexpensive compared to the peace of mind it provides.”

The risk of hiring workers through companies that have not been vetted for legitimacy was highlighted in an op-ed by JAA President and CEO Deborah Winn-Horvitz in the Jan. 13 edition of The Chronicle.

“Please make sure you are aware not only of who is going into your or your elderly friend or relative’s home, but also what happens there,” Winn-Horvitz wrote, adding that the “safest option is to obtain services through a reputable, licensed agency or registry.”

If obtaining help outside of a licensed agency, Winn-Horvitz recommended doing a criminal background check and asking for prior employment references.

When bringing workers into a loved one’s home, Foley stressed, “we need to make sure that’s why they are there. If something is suspicious, report it. If it’s happening to you, it’s probably happening to someone else.”

The investigation by the Pittsburgh Police into this particular activity within the Jewish community is ongoing. To report concerns about a private duty caregiver, contact the Pittsburgh Police at 412-422-6520. 

Editor’s note: Rosato commented for this story online after the print version was published.

Toby Tabachnick can be reached at tobyt@thejewishchronicle.net.

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