KYW Regional Affairs Council

“Senior Scams — How to Protect Your Parents”


By John McDevitt

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PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — What would you do if you suspected someone was stealing from an elderly loved one?  It happens more frequently than you may think, and it’s often tough to catch the perpetrator.

But now, thanks to technology, there are more tools available to worried family members than ever before.

Scott Black, owner of The Spy Shops, with stores in Ardmore, Warminster, and Quakertown, has many examples.

“This can opener, which looks to the naked eye like any other can opener in the world, has a hidden camera inside of it, and a transmitter.”

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(Scott Black of The Spy Shop shows an alarm clock that contains a hidden camera and recorder. Credit: John McDevitt)


Many times, Black says, there is concern that someone is stealing from or hurting an elderly loved one.  He says his staff works with those requesting surveillance equipment to fit their needs, some clients requesting hidden cams embedded in common household items.

“When they come in here they are frantic, they are at the end of their rope, they have suspicions and can’t sleep at night,” he says of family members he has spoken with.

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Black says one of his more popular sellers is a fully functional alarm clock with a covert camera, a motion detector, and a digital video recorder (DVR) built in.  Most of the devices cost around $300 and up.

But who would steal from a defenseless grandma or grandpa in the first place?  Sadly, a lot of people.  And who may be doing it could surprise you.

“Eighty to 90 percent of the time it is the family members,” according to Carlotta Bulls (below), a financial exploitation specialist for the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging.  “It is unfortunate, but it is (often) the person who has the closest contact with that person.   If no one is coming in and out of that home and that family is responsible for taking care of that senior, then more than likely that’s the person who is taking advantage of that senior in terms of finances.”

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(Carlotta Bulls of the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging. Credit: John McDevitt)


Bulls is a former Philadelphia police officer who specialized in investigations.  Now she is using her investigative skills at PCA helping the elderly who have been victims of theft.

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The PCA’s helpline is 215-765-9040.  Confidential calls to report abuse may be made by anyone, including the older adult in need.  Investigators are available 24 hours a day.

PCA has much more helpful information available at

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