MOUNT CARMEL - A Shamokin woman employed as a visiting nurse was charged with identity theft and related charges after using a Mount Carmel man's credit card to make more than $1,200 in purchases.

Keisha Castle, 22, of 21 E. Church St., Shamokin, was arraigned Thursday before Magisterial District Judge Hugh Jones, of Mount Carmel, on felony charges of identity theft and access device fraud and misdemeanor counts of theft by unlawful taking and receiving stolen property. She was committed to Northumberland County Prison on $25,000 bail, with a preliminary hearing scheduled for Wednesday before Jones.

According to a criminal complaint filed by Mount Carmel Borough Police Patrolman Matthew Dillman, the thefts allegedly occurred between June 17 and Aug. 22.

Police were alerted to the crime by Tara Owens, who informed police about the theft of a credit card belonging to her father, John Owens, of South Apple Street, Mount Carmel, who is assisted by nurses from Caretakers America on a daily basis.

Owens told police her father opened a credit card account, but the credit card was missing and the payment was late. The credit company gave her a statement and showed that several charges were made in the Shamokin and Mount Carmel area to places Owens doesn't visit and for some cash advances her father said he never made.

At Owens' residence, police arrived to speak to Castle, who was working at the time. In an interview at the station, police confronted her about the credit card usage and she began to get upset.

When asked where the card was, Castle told police she had it in her car, then admitted she used it to purchase gas, food and cigarettes, last using it in the end of July.

All total, police say Castle charged $1,249.03 to Owens' credit card, which was later found in her vehicle and handed over to police.

After the interview, police spoke to Tara Owens, who informed them $14.10 was missing from a cash box at her father's home and said the last person in the box was Castle.

Theft prevention

The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) offers the following tips to avoid caregiver theft:

- Use a reputable agency - Ask your hospital or doctor for home care agency recommendations. Make sure the agency is properly bonded, licensed, insured and accredited. Interview the agency's supervisor, find out how long the aide has worked for the agency and talk to any family that previously employed her. Always keep the lines of communication open with the agency.

- Find out what actions the agency will take if there is a theft - Will the agency take full responsibility for any theft? Will it call the police to investigate? In order to file a successful claim for reimbursement with the agency's insurer, a theft must be reported to the police, and local authorities must interview your loved one. That could be emotionally difficult for everyone involved.

- Be cautious about hiring an aide on your own - It may be cheaper hiring an aide independently, but you should inquire about the aide's background, talk to previous employers and pay a reputable firm to do a criminal background check if you decide to take this route. Make sure the aide is a U.S. citizen or legal resident, and pay the employer's portion of Social Security to be on the up and up.

- Keep an inventory of valuables in the home - Compile a list and take pictures to document your parent's valuables, put them under lock and key, or remove them from the home. Don't forget about hidden jewelry or valuables, and think about removing any valuable memorabilia displayed in the house. There's no need to put temptation in front of anyone.

- Don't invite petty theft - Your parent should keep only a small amount of cash at home. Don't leave money in obvious places, such as the nightstand next to the bed. Make sure your loved one keeps any checkbook, ATM and credit cards, and computer passwords in a secure place.

- Watch your parent's bank account and credit card charges - Make sure a family member receives duplicate bank statements and credit card bills, or better yet, has online access to our loved one's accounts so financial transactions can be monitored. Look for unusual spending: a bank account that is suddenly bleeding cash, checks made out for cash, or unusual credit card transactions. There are plenty of stories about aides getting a power of attorney, putting their names on bank accounts or receiving expensive gifts from their ailing charge. Don't let this happen to your loved one.