Let’s keep our seniors safer

WEBSummer Stephan Headshot.jpg

As your District Attorney, I’m committed to increasing communication and accessibility between the DA’s Office and you, the community. One way I hope to do that is through this new monthly column, where I’ll be providing information and tips on how you can stay safe. I’ll also keep you updated on current trends and topics in the criminal justice system.

As your District Attorney, I’m committed to increasing communication and accessibility between the DA’s Office and you, the community. One way I hope to do that is through this new monthly column, where I’ll be providing information and tips on how you can stay safe. I’ll also keep you updated on current trends and topics in the criminal justice system.

At the DA’s Office, we balance prosecution with crime prevention, so we’re always looking for ways we can help protect the community. One crime that often goes unreported is elder abuse – financial, mental or physical abuse.   About two million seniors are abused in the U.S. every year. But that’s probably just the tip of the iceberg.

Shame often prevents a senior citizen from reporting they have been a victim. In many cases, they want to protect their abuser because it happens to be their own child. 

Sadly, a lot of the cases we prosecute have things in common.

Time and again a profile has emerged of the typical abuser in an elder abuse case. For children with elderly parents or loved ones: 

The abuser is typically a son and in most situations the victim is his widowed mother. 

The abuser is usually between 35 and 55 years of age.

The abuser is typically the divorced son who returns home to live with his mother. 

The abuser is often the parolee or probationer who was recently released from custody.

Or the abuser is the single son who has never ever left home.

We often see with these prosecutions that the suspect son is usually unemployed and has an addiction problem. In order to pay for the addiction, the abuser steals from his mother. It may start with jewelry before it worsens to taking her debit card to withdraw funds from her bank account. 

In a typical scenario, when the mother discovers the theft, she confronts her son and an altercation ensues in which she gets physically abused. In some of these cases, the son also has a history of mental illness. Perhaps it is untreated or he refused to take medication, causing him to act out.

Of course, abusers aren’t limited to sons, or family members.  Scam artists are constantly targeting older victims online and on the phone. In one of our cases, an elderly grandmother was scammed out of tens of thousands of dollars.

So, what can you do to help protect your loved one?

When safeguarding your elder loved one’s wellbeing, here are a few things to keep in mind:

Choose a caregiver with caution

Keep an inventory of jewelry

Make sure they have a shredder, and use it

Monitor incoming and outgoing mail

Obtain a credit score once or twice a year

Remind your loved one to only answer calls with a caller ID

When having work done on a residence, don’t assume the friendly handyman is licensed

Keep track of your loved one’s finances

Talk with your loved one about common scams like the ‘Grandma Scam’

It’s important to stay involved in an elderly parent’s life so you can spot warning signs and stop abuse before it happens.

And of course, if you suspect that you or someone you know has been the victim of elder abuse, contact local police to report it. 

I’m committed to holding those accountable who would take advantage of our elders, but I also know that if we raise awareness in the community we can prevent crime from happening in the first place.

Summer Stephen

San Diego County

District Attorney

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