John Weekes

John Weekes is an NZME. News Service reporter based in Wellington.

Risk of theft at rest homes

Caregiver Ranita Devi. Photo / Michael Craig
Caregiver Ranita Devi. Photo / Michael Craig

Sacked carer highlights need to protect elderly.

Tighter security is needed to protect the elderly from thieves who gain their trust, a retirement expert says.

Sacked caregiver Ranita Devi and her husband, Ahlokh Chand, both 32, will be sentenced on Thursday after stealing from rest home resident Emilia Antunovich.

Devi worked at an Auckland retirement home when she met the 99-year-old. According to the police summary of facts, the senior citizen's pin number was kept near the card in her room.

Court files showed a lawyer spotted unexpected ATM transactions in March and raised the alarm, knowing Antunovich never used teller machines and did all banking by cheque.

Devi, who was in New Zealand on a work visa from Fiji, used the card and had also passed it to Chand. "So he came in and he admitted his part," financial crime unit detective Gillian Holland said.

Chand told police he used about $14,339 to pay fees at a Panmure culinary school, where he had enrolled in a 40-week diploma in international cooking.

The summary of facts also said Chand used some of the money to pay for immigration fees and for daily household expenses. Police said a total of $37,500 was taken.

Retirement Villages Association manager Ed Thomas said the case reinforced the need to follow strict guidelines around pin-number protection. These include never keeping records of passwords or writing them down, never using the same password for multiple accounts, and never disclosing them to anyone, including bank staff, police or family members.

"We have heard of cases where families have been involved with regularly withdrawing from residents' accounts and failing to account for it," he said.

Senior citizens who were unable to do their own banking needed legally binding assurances from those who banked on their behalf. "If they do need somebody, they should be looking at the power of attorney."

He said blanket safety guidelines for the care industry were impractical. "One thing is forming a protocol. The other is, how do you control it when a lot of these go below the radar? We'd never be able to gauge what's going on in an individual's account unless they provided access to it."

- Herald on Sunday

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