What are the most common crimes against seniors?
The Bureau of Justice finds that the “elderly appear to be particularly susceptible to crimes motivated by economic gain.” Seniors are more vulnerable because criminals use generational differences and social grooming to take advantage of them. The following crime prevention tips for senior citizens will help seniors protect themselves, their savings and their property.
1. Identity theft, fraud, and financial crime
Sweepstakes, phone calls, mail scams, even household help stealing identifying documents are some examples of this serious crime. Fraud from identity theft has reached alarming levels among the elderly. The Justice Department and law enforcement partners recently announced the largest coordinated sweep of elder fraud cases in history to stop elder identity theft and financial fraud.
Seniors and their loved ones should follow these steps to protect their identity – and savings:
- Do not believe any callers who claim to be from any governmental agency like the IRS, Social Security or Medicare. Government agencies do not conduct business over the phone.
- Do not provide money or personal information to charities or strangers over the phone. If you want to make a donation, send a check in the mail so it can be traced if there are any issues.
- Know when the postman comes and take in your mail quickly. Give your postman any outgoing mail or drop it into a USPS mailbox.
- Keep financial and personal documents in a locked safe.
- Decide who will handle your financial matters and care should you become unable to do it yourself.
- Sign up for identity theft protection and credit monitoring services to get alerts about inquiries or changes to your credit report.
- Use a paper shredder to destroy documents you don’t need.
Chelsea Brown, CEO of Digital Mom Talk and a Certified Cyber Security Consultant suggests: “Senior citizens can protect themselves online by investing in their online privacy.” In her experience, many of her clients became victims of identity theft scams through their Facebook public information. “The easiest way to prevent this is to pay for a company like DeleteMe to remove all personal data from the internet,” she says. “Senior citizens can also learn how to turn of their geotagging and what to share and not share on social media and coupon sites.”
2. General property crime (theft, vandalism, break-ins)
Seniors spend a lot of time at home. Being vigilant and adding layers of protection make it harder for a perpetrator to act. Preparation and awareness are key to reduce a senior’s chances of being the victim of a break-in or theft. Here are crime prevention tips for senior citizens to protect themselves and their property:
- Keep up the lawn and outdoor appearance of your home – unkempt landscaping gives thieves a place to hide and signals that someone might not be home.
- Have a professional or family member help you install security lights on the outside of your home.
- Put interior lights on timers to turn lights on in the living room or near the front door for a lived in look, especially if you go to bed early.
- Consider a home security system or a medical alert system, which can often be used to contact authorities in any type of emergency.
3. Elder abuse/neglect
It isn’t normally a problem for active, independent seniors, but can become an issue later in life. To minimize the possibility of elder abuse or neglect:
- Decide who will be in charge of your care in the event you are unable to care for yourself.
- Make arrangements in advance of where you would like to live if you’re unable to live alone any longer.
- Choose a licensed and accredited center or a reputable caregiver agency to find you a professional who will care for you with compassion and patience.
4. Purse snatching/robbery
Robberies and purse snatching are traumatic for anyone. But for the elderly, there’s added danger since they’re “more likely than younger victims to experience a serious injury.” It’s not common in all areas but might be something you’re concerned about and should always be prepared for by:
- Minimizing the number of things you carry with you at a time – can you carry a few essential items that fit in your pockets instead of carrying a purse?
- Concealing cash or cards when out and about.
- Walking with a friend or family member when possible.
Former Marine and nationally certified law enforcement trainer Morgan Ballis of Campus-Safety.us explains: “Avoidance is the key – and if you can’t avoid risks, increase your level of awareness and begin formulating plans through when/then scenarios.” For example, WHEN you need to make a cash withdrawal at the bank, THEN use the ATM machine inside during business hours and conceal the cash before you exit.
Ballis says, “Trust your gut, your life experience has given you the baseline necessary to know when something isn’t right.” Be sure to listen to it and be alert when out and about.
Other useful facts about crimes against seniors
Crime statistics aren’t always reliable. Don’t assume that your area is safe because the crime numbers are low. In many cases senior crime statistics are incomplete because:
- Crimes are likely to be underreported
- Many national statistics don’t include people who live in residential facilities such as nursing homes
Stay alert, secure your home and build a small network of trusted friends and neighbors who you see and call regularly. Isolation can contribute to crime. Keep up your connections and stay as social as possible.