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How to Protect Seniors from Thieves

Crime among senior communities is nothing new, but with criminals becoming smarter and more creative, along with a growing senior population, the problem is reaching epic proportions.

Crimes against the elderly come in several forms including financial fraud and face to face crime. Misconduct can happen from strangers, caregivers, or even family members. The best thing you can do to defend yourself and your loved one from criminal abuse is by educating yourself on how to identify a scam and what to do if you suspect one. The following list includes some of the most common crimes against seniors and tips on how to avoid them:

  • Unsolicited home repair work – In this hoax, scammers will work in pairs to target retirement communities where seniors are living alone in their home. They will come to the doorstep claiming that something needs to be fixed on his or her house, such as a clogged gutter or a hole in the roof. The scammers might demand money up front or in some cases, while one person is distracting the resident by performing the fake task, the other individual will go into the house and steal money and valuables.
    • Tips:
      • Don’t open your door automatically. Install a peephole so you can see who is at the door without opening it. If you don’t feel comfortable opening the door, don’t. It’s always your decision on whether or not you want to open the door to your home.
      • If someone comes to your home claiming it needs a repair or maintenance, ask to see proper identification. Do not let them enter your home if you do not feel comfortable. You can always call their place of business and verify they work there and that they are there to perform the task they claim they are there to perform.
      • When you do need repairs done, only work with reputable businesses. Read reviews or get recommendations from neighbors or senior living professionals.
  • Door to door charity donations – Some scammers may come to the door asking for donations to charities that aren’t real. These individuals may ask for payment in cash, credit card, or through apps such as Venmo or PayPal. These scams may also occur in malls where individuals have set up tables or kiosks. They could also happen on public sidewalks where a person will approach vulnerable individuals such as seniors and lure them into conversation and pressure them into donating to a fake organization.
    • Tips:
      • Don’t open your door automatically. Install a peephole so you can see who is at the door without opening it.
      • If the person is clearly a stranger (i.e. not a child selling girl scout cookies or someone you recognize from the neighborhood) and you don’t feel comfortable opening the door, then don’t.
      • Say, “no thank you” through the door and be sure it is locked and deadbolted.
      • Do not engage in a conversation with the individual through the door as it encourages them to stick around. If they do not go away, call the police.
      • If a solicitor approaches you on the street, say, “no thank you” and keep walking. If they persist, stay in a public place and call the police.
  • Burglaries – Seniors who live in retirement communities, nursing homes, or memory care facilities are commonly targeted for burglaries. For example, In Fishers, Ind., two women posed as employees to get past security guards in a nursing home and stole resident’s belongings. Other times, burglars simply break in when no one is home and steal money and valuables.
    • Tips:
      • Lock all windows and doors when leaving the house and when you are home. Install deadbolts and peepholes on all doors for extra protection.
      • Consider installing a security system to use while home and away.
      • Do not leave notes on the door when you leave the house.
      • Keep your home well lit when you’re home and away. Close the blinds and use timers to turn lights on and off when you’re away on vacation.
      • Let the police/security guards and neighbors know when you are going out of town so they can keep a watchful eye on your home while you’re gone.
      • Cancel newspapers and mail on the days you are gone so they don’t pile up.
  • Mail Thieves – Identity theft is common among seniors and mail theft is a particularly likely strategy. Even though it’s a federal crime, it’s quite an easy scam to carry out. Not only will thieves steal from mailboxes, they will go through trash, searching for personal information.
    • Tips:
      • Get a locked mailbox or set up a PO box at the post office to send and receive mail that has personal information such as credit card statements.
      • Sign up for paperless billing and statements to reduce the amount of sensitive mail you receive.
      • Use a neighborhood watch system. In fact, this goes for all potential neighborhood crimes. If you and your neighbors look out for each other for suspicious activity, then you can call the police right away to handle the situation.

While elder criminal abuse becomes more prevalent, it is also tough to fight because it commonly goes unreported by victims. Often, seniors are scared of the consequences, too confused, don’t notice the fraudulent activity, or are too embarrassed to report it. This is why it is so important to use these tips and educate your loved one in order to prevent criminal and fraudulent activity from happening.

Remember, whenever in doubt, or you or your loved one are uncomfortable in public or in your home, it’s OK to call the authorities. Follow your instincts and these safety tips in order to keep yourself safe from harm and criminal behavior.

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