KYW Regional Affairs Council

“Senior Scams — How to Protect Your Parents”


By Cherri Gregg

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Say you’re helping your mom do her taxes and you notice several strange charges on her bank statements.  Mom says she doesn’t know anything about them.

What do you do if you find out that your elderly mother or father is the victim of a financial scam?  Let’s explore some of the options and their potential impact on your loved one.

(Karen Buck of the Senior Law Center. Credit: Cherri Gregg)

“Often, the law has no remedy,” admits Karen Buck (right), executive director of the Senior Law Center, which provides legal services for Pennsylvanians over age 60.  She warns that for the best outcomes, victims must take action as soon as they notice something is wrong:

“There are steps that they need to take — notifying their bank, notifying their credit card provider, closing the bank account, filing a police report, filing an affidavit of fraud.”

The problem is if you don’t find the fraud until much later.  In such cases the money might be gone for good, since perpetrators rarely have the means to repay.  This also makes a civil lawsuit a tough road to follow.

If your elderly family member was swindled out of real property, you’ll have to hire a lawyer, and it could take years to quiet title.

Then there’s criminal prosecution.  Alethea Brown (below right) provides support for elderly victims in cases prosecuted by the Philadelphia DA’s office.

“I have a case now, a grandmother whose grandson stole money from her.  But he has a drug issue and he also has a mental health issue,” she says.


(Alethea Brown of the Philadelphia DA's office, right, teaching crime prevention to seniors at church in North Philadelphia. Credit: Cherri Gregg)


Brown says many seniors are reluctant to prosecute cases when the perpetrator is a family member.  She says seniors may also suffer embarrassment from the betrayal, as well as an intense fear of losing their cherished independence:

“They are afraid of going into a nursing home. They’re afraid someone is going to say, ‘Well, you can no longer take care of yourself so I am going to take over your assets and your life.’ ”

Brown says crimes and financial exploitation can take a psychological toll on the senior as well, which can exacerbate any illnesses they may already be dealing with.

(Noel DeSantis, an assistant DA in Philadelphia. Credit: Cherri Gregg)

Noel DeSantis (right), an assistant district attorney in Philadelphia, adds that scams targeting old people can be especially tough to prosecute — for a number of reasons.

“To really seek the maximum penalties on defendants, we preserve the testimony of the elderly victim when their memory is still fresh,” she tells KYW Newsradio.

Or just as likely, DeSantis says, the unthinkable happens and the elderly victim doesn’t live long enough for the case to come to trial.

But the best way to fight crime against the elderly, experts agree, is to prevent it.That’s why the DA’s offices in Philadelphia and the surrounding counties hold seminars advising seniors on how to prevent fraud and other crimes.

If you or your elderly loved one is a victim of crime, call 911.  For more information on the Philadelphia DA’s office Elderly Justice Project call 215-686-8752.

If you need information on how to pursue civil remedies, contact the Senior Law Center at or call the Pennsylvania Senior Law Help Line at 1-877–PA SR LAW.

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