News stories abound of criminals taking advantage of elderly citizens. According to a study done by the U.S. Department of Justice in 2021, “About 83 percent of all crime experienced by the elderly was property crime.”
In my hometown, seniors were recently targeted by a crew of burglars gaining entry into homes while posing as city utility workers. Once inside, they searched the house for valuables while the residents were distracted.
It is certainly an old scam, one of dozens aimed at the trusting nature of senior citizens, who are often seen as slow, frail, and less likely to put up a fight.
Additionally, elderly people are often unwilling to report a crime that has victimized them because they may have been confused by what happened, ashamed of being scammed or robbed, or concerned that admitting the incident happened could lead to the loss of their independence.
Unfortunately, people who live alone, perhaps because their spouse has passed away or family no longer lives close, are more vulnerable to criminals because that isolation makes them an easy target.
Senior citizens who understand and accept the limits of their abilities caused by aging come to fear crime – especially violent crime – and that fear causes many to remain home, furthering the cycle.
Get with the program
Breaking the cycle of fear and isolation besieging many elderly people is important.
Communication between friends and family, as well as engaging in local activities, is a good antidote for being controlled by that fear.
Interaction with other people in their community will increase the sense of security while providing a basis for support in the neighborhood. Understanding the source of fear – criminal activity – while raising their awareness level will give elderly people a sense of confidence. Local agencies provide support.
In Boston, for example, the police’s senior response unit monitors more than 100 senior housing complexes and areas in the community. This has increased the perception of the safety in their communities while providing them with a feeling of security.
The St. Louis County Older Resident Program gives senior citizens the social and mental stimulation that helps keep them alert and active. According to the National Crime Prevention Council, “Activities include an opportunities fair, a cable television show produced by retirees, crime prevention presentations at churches, social meetings and clubs, telephone reassurance, and help with insurance forms and legal documents.”
Programs like these protect elderly residents and boost the spirit of older, home-bound individuals who might not have the support of friends or nearby family.
Secure your home
Keeping a senior citizen safe in his or her home is paramount to their mental well-being. Many times, they have lived in that home for most of their life, and the thought of it being burgled and their possessions were taken away can be overwhelming.
The same methods to keep anyone’s home safe can be used here. Have well-lighted entryways and illuminated walkways around the home. Older individuals should be sure that their doors are locked, and windows are latched at all times.
Homeowners who have a security alarm installed should keep it activated and, if possible, place a sign that indicates the alarm system in the front yard. This will alert potential burglars that you are prepared with a form of home protection and make them think twice about choosing your residence.
There are more subtle ways to help create a barrier between the house and potential burglars. Place “Beware of Dog” signs on backyard fences, even if there is no dog. Plant thorny bushes under windows and along vulnerable fence lines. Don’t lubricate gate hinges, so they squeak when opened.
Put a couple of lights on timers in rooms not normally used and have them go on and off at odd hours, showing anyone outside that someone might be home. Use a television light simulator to give the impression that someone is up late; most burglars will not break into a house if they suspect someone is home.
Getting to know the neighbors is always a great way for an elderly person to help feel secure. People normally enjoy living next to senior citizens because they are usually quiet. Provide them with phone numbers of relatives and make them aware of any changes to the routine of the home (gardener, pool service, etc.). By creating an unofficial neighborhood watch, it will be more difficult for a criminal to move about unnoticed.
Keep valuables safe
Many senior citizens have a lot of valuables, like jewelry accumulated over the decades. Some have an old-fashioned view of banks and credit/ debit cards, meaning they keep large amounts of cash in the house. These are targets for would-be thieves, as cash and jewelry are the top two items sought by burglars.
Keeping valuables in a safe (or safe deposit box) is paramount to their safety, as they should only come out when they are being used. When stored in the house, items like laptops, electronics, and collectibles should be kept of sight.
Though senior citizens are typically averse to technology, converting their cash-only system to one that uses a debit card would make it easier to track and covered if stolen. Cash is virtually untraceable.
Because of the general perception that the elderly are frail and not properly equipped to fight back, most home invasion robberies start with a knock on the door. If it isn’t a family member or a known friend, there’s no reason to open the door to anyone unless they are expected.
Keep a phone near the door, or preferably keep a cell phone handy at all times, to call the police if the activity seems suspicious. It is better to be safe than sorry.
Adapt to technology
This is a difficult hurdle for elderly people to overcome, as cell phones, computers, the Internet, and many modern things are unfamiliar, and most are too timid to try them. However, incorporating a few modern technologies into a senior citizen’s lifestyle will greatly enhance their safety and promote their security.
House Alarm: A system that connects to a call center that can and will dispatch emergency personnel is important. An audible alarm system by itself is a great deterrent for any would-be thief. Systems can be activated remotely and even monitored from a cell phone.
Cell Phone: Landlines can be cut, and often are during a home invasion robbery, but a cell phone will work without power or connection to the Internet.
Personal Alarm/Monitor: Even though some of the companies have a laughable stigma (“I’ve fallen and I can’t get up”), they provide an excellent service for seniors, allowing them the freedom of movement without the fear of injury. These personal monitors can also be used to summon help during a crime. Alarms that emit a loud noise at the press of a button not only call a lot of attention to the situation but they are debilitating to any would-be attacker.
Self-defense tips for the seniors
Because they are often targeted by criminals as being frail and not likely to fight back or pursue a thief, senior citizens need to be prepared when they travel in public, especially if they are alone and/or in unfamiliar places.
Carry a Cane: Even if you don’t need one, always carry a cane. A cane can be a formidable weapon, and when swung with intent, it can cause some damage. Aim for the collarbone and neck.
Keep Your Keys Out: When in an unfamiliar area or one that might be suspect, always have your keys out and position a few of them between your fingers. If attacked, aim for the eyes, neck/ throat, and groin area.
Be Prepared and Confident: Always maintain a vigilant and observant attitude. Notice your surroundings and those strangers in them. Keep a watchful eye on suspicious-looking people, and never let anyone you don’t know into your personal space. Walk tall and with a purpose, which might give your potential attacker second thoughts. Be alert, because distraction techniques are widely used in robberies.
Everything is a Weapon: Shoes, purse, watch, wedding ring, a pen, chair, sticks, rocks – everything is a potential weapon. Don’t be afraid of hurting your attacker. He doesn’t care about you.
Make Lots of Noise: If you are attacked, make as much noise as possible. This will draw attention to anyone in the vicinity who may be able to offer assistance.
Learn Self-Defense Techniques: You don’t have to be an expert at Jiu-Jitsu or Muay Thai, but knowing a few self-defense moves and the right places to strike are good tools to have.
Don’t Go Alone: Thieves and robbers might not prey on groups of people like they would a person walking alone, so it is wise to use the buddy system. And since most crimes happen at night, run errands in the daytime.
Fight: This might be the fight of your life, so make it count. Fight dirty. Fight fierce. Fight hard.
Weapons For The Elderly
Perhaps you don’t want your 80-year-old grandma packing heat in the form of a S&W .357 or wheeling around a Mossberg Roadblocker in her 1950s-era bungalow. However, there are a bevy of small, lightweight weapons that are perfect for elderly people.
Stun Gun/Pepper Spray: Pepper spray is a good defense against an attacker because it has a longer range, and one doesn’t have to be close to his/her assailant for it to be effective as one would with a stun gun.
Auto dialer home alarm: Criminals enjoy preying on the elderly, and this home alarm can prevent you from coming home to an intruder. It will call you if it detects motion in your home and allows you the option of calling the police instead of walking in on the criminal and getting attacked.
Mini stun gun: A very small, light, and easy-to-use stun gun can be a lifesaver. It fits nicely in your hand or pocket and can be used on the attacker even if he is touching you, since the electricity will not pass through to you.
Avoid phone scams
Each year hundreds of thousands of phone scams are perpetrated on the elderly in attempts to rob them of their retirement funds or life savings.
Scam artists often target older people because they feel that senior citizens are more willing to believe any good news they are told or that they will be too polite to ignore a plea for help.
The scams are often delivered to unsuspecting older people over the phone. Some seem very friendly, calling you by your first name, making small talk, and asking about your family, while others are threatening and scary.
They may claim to work for a trusted company and want seniors to provide them with personal information like credit card numbers or Social Security information.
Family members of older people may want to consider putting together a checklist of common scams that they should be wary of and avoid.
Everyone’s a potential target. Fraud isn’t limited to race, ethnic background, gender, age, education, or income. That said, some scams seem to concentrate on certain groups. For example, older people may be targeted because the caller assumes they may live alone, have a nest egg, or may be more polite toward strangers.
The Federal Trade Commission explains that “scammers use exaggerated or even fake prizes, products or services as bait. Some may call you, but others will use mail, texts, or ads to get you to call them for more details.”
Make sure to avoid:
“Free” or “low cost” vacations can end up costing a bundle in hidden costs. Some of these vacations never take place, even after you’ve paid.
Credit and loans
Advance fee loans, payday loans, credit card protection, and offers to lower your credit card interest rates are very popular schemes, especially during a down economy.
Sham or exaggerated business and investment opportunities
Promoters of these have made millions of dollars. Scammers rely on the fact that business and investing can be complicated and that most people don’t research the investment.
Urgent requests for recent disaster relief efforts are especially common over the phone.
High-stakes foreign lotteries
These pitches are against the law, which prohibits the cross-border sale or purchase of lottery tickets by phone or mail. What’s more, you may never see a ticket.
Extended car warranties.
Scammers find out what kind of car you drive and when you bought it so they can urge you to buy overpriced or worthless plans.
“Free” trial offers
Some companies use free trials to sign you up for products that can cost you lots of money because they bill you every month until you cancel.
They claim you owe back taxes and demand payment, or they will call the local authorities. The IRS never calls anybody, ever.
There are several key phrases used by telemarketers and scammers that should give anyone a hint of suspicion. A few are:
- You’ve won money in a foreign lottery.
- You’ve been specially selected for this offer.
- This investment is low risk and provides a higher return than you can get anywhere else.
- You have to decide right away.
- You trust me, right?
Simply say “No, thank you” and hang up. Having a telephone that blocks that number is also helpful. Be wary of anyone selling anything you didn’t ask for.
The art of keeping a senior citizen safe is in communication, patience, understanding, and persistence. The techniques are the same for anyone, really, but the concepts need to be modified and put into terms older people understand.
Because the elderly are targets for a lot of technology-related crimes, they will always be vulnerable. With the right tools and a lot of education, most crimes against them can be prevented.
Useful resources to check out: