As people grow older, their chances of being victims of crime
decrease dramatically. But a lifetime of experience coupled
with the physical problems associated with aging often make
older Americans fearful. Even though they may be on the lookout
constantly for physical attack and burglary, they’re not as alert for
frauds and con games - in reality the greatest crime threat to seniors’
well-being and trust.


Here are some tips on how to avoid becoming a victim as a senior citizen:

TELEPHONE CALLERS

SAFETY ON THE STREET AT THE DOOR
GUIDELINES FOR WOMEN


Every year senior citizens lose thousands of dollars to traveling con-artists and are cautioned to be alert for the following types of scams:

HOME REPAIR FRAUD HOME DIVERSION BURGLARY THE PIGEON DROP
TELEMARKETING FRAUD LETTER SCAM BANK EXAMINER SCAM

While you are at home there are two ways in which you can be contacted: your door and your telephone.

TELEPHONE CALLERS

You control conversations and information flow on your telephone. If you do not know the caller, do not volunteer information. Should the caller ask: "Who is this?" you should respond: "Whom are you calling?" or "Whom do you wish to speak to?" Make the caller identify whom he/she is calling. If you do not receive an appropriate response, hang up.

Do not allow yourself to be drawn into conversations with stranger callers, census/survey takers or business promotion sales persons where you are asked to reveal your name, address, marital status, personal history information, etc. Never give out personal information over the telephone. If the call is legitimate and the representative actually requires the information, arrange a meeting at your convenience. The legitimate caller will respect your position and agree to an alternate approach. If in doubt, ask the caller for the name of the business and telephone number, so that you can return the call. Then, check the number to ensure that it corresponds to the caller's information.

In the case of obscene phone calls, night calls from strangers or frequent wrong number calls, telephone your police department or your telephone company and seek their advise. If necessary, change your phone number.

AT THE DOOR

Most of the time, the person at your door will be there for a legitimate reason, whether he/she is a friend or a stranger. If the caller is a recognized friend, there should be no problem. If the caller is a stranger, you should immediately become alert. Never open your door to a stranger. You should have a one-way peephole installed in the door that allows you to see who the caller is. The one-way peephole is inexpensive and easily installed.

If a stranger is legitimately at your door, he / she will not object to you being cautious. Establish the callers identity and the reason for the visit. If he / she refuses to show identification and will not leave, quietly go to the telephone and notify the police. If you live in an apartment complex, telephone your building superintendent. Should the caller produce identification but you still are not sure of the validity of the visit, telephone the caller's business office for confirmation. If you still feel uncomfortable, do not open the door; ask the caller to return in 30 minutes or an hour. This will allow you sufficient time to contact a friend or relative to be present when the caller returns. Being cautious increases your safety and well-being.

There are a number of ways you can secure your doors. If you do not feel your locks are adequate, we recommend that you contact a professional locksmith or a friend to assist you. Most local police departments have literature on home security that will provide you with information on various residential locking devices. Should you consider improving the security of your home, investigate thoroughly your lock requirements and the cost of upgrading the security of your doors, for a lock is only as effective as the door and frame on which it is installed.

SAFETY ON THE STREET

Some seniors are concerned about their safety on the street. Do not have an exaggerated fear of crime; however, recognize the fact that it can happen to you. You must ask yourself: "Just how real is this threat? Is it safe to walk in my neighborhood during the day or night? Have there been street crimes, purse snatchings, robberies or assaults?" If street crimes are a problem in your neighborhood and you have a fear of being victimized, find out what you can do that will eliminate or reduce you risk.

The majority of street crimes are crimes of opportunity. The thief is looking for an easy target: a woman walking down a quiet street, a man who has just cashed his pension check and has been observed with a substantial amount of money. Or, the thief decides that this is the right place and the right time, and you just happen to be there. The thief is very likely to be a teenager, a male and a stranger to you.

The most common street crime is purse snatching. The thief approaches you from behind or face on, catches you unaware, grabs your purse and runs. It happens so quickly that you do not have a chance to see who the thief is. There have been reports of men having their wallets taken from them by force. These offences do not occur that often, but they do occur.

For many people who have been victimized by this hit-and-run tactic, the trauma changes their outlook towards their community. They become fearful of the street and feel that their security and the quality of their lives have been jeopardized. For many, their instinctive reaction is to withdraw from what was once a friendly world.

You may ask yourself: "How can I prevent myself from becoming a victim?" You can help prevent your purse or wallet from being stolen. You must recognize that you are not safe from crime by virtue of your age. There is no foolproof method that will stop a crime from occuring. There are ways in which you can reduce the risks and increase your sense of personal security. Your common sense is the best guide to your personal protection. Here are a number of rules and guidelines. It is up to you to determine how these rules and guidelines apply to your situation.

NEVER:

1. CARRY LARGE SUMS OF MONEY,
2. FLASH YOUR MONEY FOR ALL TO SEE, OR
3. CARRY VALUABLES IN FULL VIEW ON YOUR PERSON.

GUIDELINES FOR WOMEN

Is it always necessary to carry your purse? If you are going to the store for groceries, take along only the amount of money you feel you will need. Be alert when you are carrying a purse on the street or in a store. Use a shoulder strap model and keep it tucked between your body and your arm. Do not dangle a purse by the straps or hold a clutch-style purse just in the hand. If your purse is a clasp type, carry the purse so that it opens towards your body. If you look as though you are protecting your purse, you will not be considered an easy target. DO NOT wrap purse straps around your wrist or you could be dragged along or knocked to the ground in the event of a "snatch". Should your purse be snatched, try to remember the most significant physical characteristic about the offender.

  • a facial scar
  • a physical deformity, or
  • a distinctive facial characteristic.

This description information is more important than the color of jacket that can be easily discarded. Call the police immediately or ask someone to call for you. Your best defense is practicing crime prevention techniques. Learn what you can do to protect yourself. It may mean going shopping in pairs or in a group, or changing your route to avoid a certain street corner or youth hangout. And there is nothing to stop you from reporting problem areas to the proper authorities. Do not be embarrassed to call the police. It is their job to assist you and investigate problem areas.

HOME REPAIR FRAUD

Senior citizens are approached by individuals offering to perform various home repair jobs such as driveway repair, roof or gutter repair and asphalt repair. The perpetrators claim to have materials left over from other jobs, offer significant discounts, or that they were sent by a close relative or friend.  Once the job is completed, the cost of the work is suddenly more than the first quote and payment in cash is demanded. The con artists may even offer to provide a ride to the bank so the victim can convert his/her check to cash.

Citizens are advised to always get references from home repair workers. The elderly are advised to be especially leery of workers from outside the local area. If you believe that you are being ripped off, contact your local police and your personal lawyer prior to payment. Finally, the potential employers are advised to contact the Indiana Attorney General's Office, the Better Business Bureau and the County Clerk's Office to check if any complaints have been registered against the company offering this service prior to entering into any agreements.

TELEMARKETING FRAUD

Thousands of Americans continue to receive unsolicited phone calls from telemarketers trying to sell a variety of products. The majority of telemarketers represent legitimate businesses, and adhere to ethical sales techniques. Unfortunately, others do not. Unscrupulous telemarketers are the smoothest of operators, successful at swindling consumers out of millions of dollars.

According to the Better Business Bureau and the FTC, here's how you can reduce your risk of becoming a victim of telemarketing fraud:

  • Be skeptical of "too good to be true" telephone offers.
  • Resist pressure for an immediate decision and ask for written follow-up materials that explain the offer.
  • Agree to pay no more than the price of a postage stamp when notified about "winning" a sweepstakes. All legitimate sweepstakes must allow a "no purchase necessary" way to play the game and collect the prize.
  • Never provide your credit card or checking account numbers to a caller from an unfamiliar company without first checking the company out with your Better Business Bureau, state consumer protection agency or state Attorney General.
  • Ask to be placed on the company's "do not call" list to reduce the number of unwanted telephone solicitations you receive.

Texas law provides certain protections for a person who receives a telephone solicitation at a residence.

A telephone solicitor must:

  • identify himself or herself by name;
  • identify the business on whose behalf he or she is calling;
  • identify the purpose of the call; and
  • identify the telephone number at which the person, company, or organization making the call may be reached.

A telephone solicitor may not call a residence before 9 a.m. or after 9 p.m. on a weekday or Saturday, or before noon or after 9 p.m. on Sunday.

If a telephone solicitor uses an automatic dialing/announcing device, the machine must disconnect from your line within 30 seconds after termination of the call.

Exceptions: The requirements above do not apply to telephone solicitations made at your request or solicitations made in connection with an existing debt or contract, or calls from a telephone solicitor with whom you have a prior or existing business relationship.

Complaints: The Attorney General of Texas investigates complaints relating to a violation of this law, which is found at the Business and Commerce Code Chapter 37. If you have a complaint about a telephone solicitor whom you believe has violated this law, contact:

Consumer Protection Division
Office of the Attorney General of Texas
P.O. Box 12548
Austin, Texas 78711
Telephone: (512) 463-2070

HOME DIVERSION BURGLARY

This scam usually occurs during the spring, summer or fall when residents are working outside. Most individuals working in their yard do not lock the doors to their homes. One individual will approach the victim and occupy his/her attention while a second subject enters the victim's home and steals cash, jewelry and silver.

Another home diversion techniques is for perpetrators to come to a residence and ask for a drink of water, use a bathroom, or use a telephone for an emergency to gain entrance to a home. The subjects will then attempt to divert the victim's attention while an accomplice searches for valuables.

Tips: If an unknown subject comes to your home seeking directions, the phone, the bathroom, etc., keep the subjects outside the home and at least one locked door between you and them. If they need water direct them to an outside faucet, if they need to contact someone, offer to make the call for them. When working in the yard only leave a door unlocked that you can visibly monitor at all times.

THE PIGEON DROP

In the most common variation of this scheme, a person is approached by strangers who claim to have found a large bag containing cash. The victim is convinced to put up "good faith" money to share in the find and is driven to his/her bank to obtain the money. The good faith money is then put in a purse or parcel for safekeeping.  The victim is then distracted while the parcel containing his/her money is switched. The bogus parcel is later given to the victim for safe keeping and the strangers leave to make final arrangements and never return.

Obviously, if a deal sounds to good to be true, it is. Anyone that asks for a person to put up money for "good faith" is not trustable. In this instance you have to ask, why would anyone wish to share their money? If you wish to verify the loss of a large bag containing cash contact your local police to check out this story and to advise them of the con-artists you have encountered.

BANK EXAMINER SCAM

The con-artist portrays himself as a good Samaritan in this scheme and generally poses as a bank official, police officer, or FBI agent flashing a badge or other identification. The perpetrators requests the assistance of the victim in checking on an employee suspected of defrauding the victim's bank or indicates there is reason to believe the victim's records are inaccurate and should be checked. Once the swindler has the victim's confidence, he persuades the victim to withdraw large sums of cash from his bank account. The victim is then assured his money will be returned and the swindler will ultimately take the money, never to be seen again.

All of the professionals listed above have other ways to resolve investigations rather than involving innocent subjects. Each of
these groups have their own officers an money for covert operations to check for bank fraud. If you are approached by any of these individuals contact their claimed employer to verify their employment.  If the person claims to be a detective or FBI agent, ask the person for a uniformed officer to come to your location to verify their identity.

LETTER SCAM

The perpetrator in this scheme claims to be from Africa, or another country, and has just inherited a large sum of money. He then displays a letter that states that under the law in their country he cannot return with more than a small amount of U.S. currency. The swindler then solicits the victim's assistance and either asks the victim to keep the money and periodically send small amounts of it back to them in their home country or make a small donation. In either case, the victim is given the impression that this person will return to their country leaving his money behind.

The con-artist tells his victim that he trusts him, however, it will be necessary for him to prove he has money of his own so he won't be tempted to keep this money. When the victim withdraws a large sum of money from his bank, the money is placed into a handkerchief or envelope along with the con-artist's money and a switch is made. The victim is later given an identical envelope or handkerchief containing cut up paper and the con-artist departs never to be seen again.

Banks were established over hundreds of years ago just for this specific purpose. Remember, this person approached you because of your reputation for honesty. If you have to prove your financial responsibility, then this person is not being honest about their intention.

IN ALL CASES:

If you are approached or believe you have been or may be
victimized by a traveling con-artist, call the Port Arthur Police
Department immediately at 983-8600. 

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