As the Pesach cleaning season shifts into frenetic gear, thousands of women across town rely heavily on cleaning help to tackle the monumental task of readying their home for the upcoming Yom Tov. With the increase in domestic aid comes an uptick of related crimes, with dozens of housewives reporting stolen valuables, missing cash and even entire drawers brazenly cleared out with the most obvious suspect wisely disappearing from the face of the earth. And when the authorities try to track down the perpetrators, the trail grows cold due to a lack of positive identification or contact information and sometimes even a name.
A large number of calls have been fielded from local housewives and homeowners, reporting petty and not so petty thefts on the part of cleaning help who either vanished or showed up the next day but vehemently denied any knowledge of the missing items.
“It is crucial all year round,” say LCSW officials, “and especially now with the cleaning intensifying, to take basic steps to protect oneself against the possibility of theft occurring and to be equipped with necessary information to help police catch the perpetrator should there be a crime.”
Many of these aggravating incidents could have been prevented, they caution, and it behooves every Lakewood resident to exercise vigilance with any stranger she allows into her home, to prevent herself from becoming the next statistic.
In the hopes of curbing the number of incidences and providing some measure of peace of mind to the many housewives who rely on household help, LCSW would like to educate the public on the following tips to keep in mind when hiring a cleaning lady:
1. One of the most productive and often ignored means of protection is never to leave things lying around! As honest and as trustworthy as you’ve found your cleaning lady or worker to be, sometimes the temptation is too great to pass up.
2. Take down as much of her personal information as possible before hiring; her name, phone number, address, and if possible do a background check. If she seems reluctant to share any of these identifications, that may be a warning sign.
3. Do some homework! Ask for references and like we said, if she refuses to provide them that can be an indication that she has something to hide. On the same note, ask her who her previous employers have been and speak to each of them.
4. It’s always preferable to hire help through an agency, so that they have someone to answer to. Since that is not the reality for a large majority of the cleaning women in Lakewood, at the very least don’t hire someone off the street who knocks on your door looking for work. Rather, consider someone who has an overseer, that one woman in the block who “arranges” her schedule among multiple families. This way, she has an additional level of accountability and an added incentive to stay on the straight and narrow, knowing that if she loses your trust, she stands to lose her entire clientele.
5. Make sure she feels supervised, without feeling like you’re breathing down her back. Don’t stand on top of her when she’s cleaning, (you don’t want her to resent you to the point that she steals out of malice!) but pop in and out of the room frequently, so that she knows it’s not worth the risk.
6. Be aware of suspicious behavior; if she’s taking too long to retrieve that shmatta, coming out of the boy’s room even though you asked her to clean the bathroom, etc.
7. It is common practice among many to leave cleaning ladies unattended in the home for hours. As much as feasible, avoid that at all costs. Run errands after she leaves or before she comes. If you have no choice but to have her clean while you’re at work or elsewhere, be careful to hide all valuables, important documents, etc. in a safe.
8. Take picture of her for your records on her first day of employment so that you’ll have something concrete to show the police in the event that a crime does occur and she disappears. This will serve as a deterrent for her as well, because she knows it is now much harder for her to disappear into anonymity.
9. Find out where she’s been before
10. If your cleaning lady tells you she’s going back to her hometown, take that as a sign to be extra vigilant. It is an all-too common practice, unfortunately, for workers to clean out their employer’s home before they leave, knowing that by the time the theft is discovered, they will be across the border.
11. Don’t let anyone know that you will be away for an extended period of time. If a woman is cleaning your home on Friday morning and observes you loading your van with seventeen suitcases, she will realize you are going away and your home is practically a sitting duck. Too many individuals find themselves victims of crime after casually mentioning to a worker, “I need you to come early tomorrow as I will be leaving in the afternoon for our holiday.”
12. Don’t assume innocence. No matter if she’s been with you for years, she knows the names and hobbies of all your children and is an honorary member of the family, always take the above precautions as applicable. Trite as the dictum may be, it has saved many an employer from unnecessary grief:
“Better safe than sorry!”
Wishing the entire community a happy, safe, stress-free and crime-free Pesach season.