PIX11 helps 94-year-old woman retrieve $100K stolen by neighbor using fraudulent checks

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BELMAR, N.J. (PIX11) -- When we first met Bertha Gerrard, she was celebrating her 94th birthday with her two sons, Bob and Michael.

The bad news is a neighbor was in jail for stealing $140,000 from Bertha’s accounts at the Bank of America and Santander Bank.

The scam started last summer after Bertha was moved from her Belmar, New Jersey house to a nursing home.  A neighbor— who police later identified as Harold Graham — allegedly began stealing  Bertha’s mail from the house.

Court papers say he was “writing, signing, and cashing" numerous checks. Graham was allegedly forging her signature on checks totaling up to $15,000 a week.

When the scam was finally exposed after 6 months, the Gerrard brothers filed a claim with Santander Bank which agreed to return the $40,000 in forged checks the branch had cashed. But the Bank of America denied the Gerard’s claim for the $100,000— citing a regulation that gives customers only 30 days after receiving their monthly statement to notify the bank of any problems.  But neither Bertha nor her sons knew there was a problem because the monthly bank statements were being stolen.

“If you don’t file in 30 days its null and void, Michael Gerrard said. "They didn’t think of their own culpability, what they did wrong, how they honored signatures that weren’t close to my mother’s signature." So the Gerrard brothers asked PIX11 for help.

Normally big banks are not known for having big hearts, but in this case the Bank of America came though big time. Almost immediately after PIX11 Investigates contacted them, the bank’s statement says “we revisited  Ms. Gerrard’s claim, and have reversed our decision given the unique circumstances. We’ll  be contacting the family today, and refunding the full amount that was fraudulently withdrawn from her account.”

“My mother is thrilled!” said Michael.

“I want to thank you Arnold”, said Michael. ”You are a consummate professional. You were relentless in this pursuit of justice. You have a special place in the heart of my family." The Monmouth County Prosecutor’s office is awaiting presentation of the case to a grand jury.

Some tips for protecting your bank account:

In this case, the Bank of America said it normally requires customers to report irregularities on their monthly statements to the bank within 30 days.  The bank did not enforce that regulation  because the customer’s monthly statements were being stolen.  But it is a good idea to examine your bank statement immediately upon receiving it just in case there is something that needs to be reported.

It is important to have a signature card on file at your bank .

If you move, here’s some tips to change your address quickly.

What are your rights when it comes to  forged checks?