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Staying Safe:
How To Avoid Becoming A Victim

Feeling safe is important to our physical and mental well-being. When we feel safe, we are better friends and neighbors. Who wants to spend time with someone who is distrusting, wary, or afraid all of the time? By feeling secure at home or when we are out and about, we become the type of persons we enjoy being around.

Many of us will be touched by crime at some point in our lives; our home may have a break-in,we may fall for a financial scam or someone might snatch our purse. Some victims become afraid or isolated because of a crime experience or the fear of crime in their neighborhoods. Others are able to learn how to better protect themselves and bounce back.

The fact is older people are less likely to be victims of crime and violence than younger people. Statistics tell us most victims of violent crime are young adults, ages 17 to 25. Still, we all should and can do much more to protect ourselves.

This includes staying alert, being aware of our surroundings, being confident and not acting like victims. This article touches on a few areas of safety when you are at home and includes information about reporting crimes and asking for help.

Protect Yourself from Home Improvement Scams

Most of us wish to remain in our own homes so we take steps to keep our homes in good repair. Having to make repairs sometimes opens the door for the elderly to fall victim to home repair scams.

Take Mr. Roberts as an example. A man claiming to be a contractor stopped at his home. He came to the door, explained he was doing roof repairs for a neighbor and noticed a weak spot on Mr. Roberts' roof. That sounded reasonable. After all, Mr. Roberts' roof was at least 27 years old; the scam roofer was driving a pick-up with ladders, he was very nice, and he looked like a hard worker.

The so-called roofer said he had shingles left from another job; he could do the work for a few hundred dollars. Mr. Roberts signed a contract and the man tore off a section of shingles from the roof. He then said the roof needed much more work and raised the price to $8,000.

When Mr. Roberts would not pay, the man threatened to put a lien on the home or leave Mr. Roberts with an exposed roof.

What could Mr. Roberts have done to protect himself? If a person comes to your door about a repair, thank them for their concern. Ask for a business card and explain you intend to get three estimates and check each business with the Better Business Bureau.

Do not let strangers inside your home or go outside if they tell you they want to point out damage. Scam artists are terrific storytellers. They may offer leftover supplies at a discount or tell you about family hardships to tug at your heartstrings.

Be firm; stand as tall as you can. Look directly at the person, use a strong voice, and repeat you are not ready to make a repair decision today.

Looking confident will often discourage a scam artist; this attitude lets them know you may be old, but you are no pushover.

Protect Yourself at Home

We lock up when we leave the house, but keeping doors locked when we are at home is just as important. If you are working or sitting in the yard, lock your door and close your garage.

If you do not have locks or deadbolts on your home, ask someone to install them for you - your family, friends, people at your place of worship, the hardware store or locksmith are all good resources and will know costs. You may have to buy locks and pay for installation.

Check with your insurance company and ask for a discount for homeowners that install new locks. When you have been outside or away and return home, be alert for anything out of order before you enter your home. Anytime you sense something is wrong, ask a neighbor for help or call the police before entering your home.

Avoid Harassing Calls from Telemarketers

Phone calls at home may also lead to trouble. To cut down on telemarketing calls, put your number on the Do Not Call Registry. You can do this online or by calling the Registry toll free at 1-888-382-1222.

Usually, scam calls ask you for help in fighting crime or ask you for personal information. Some will pretend to be a bank or credit card company and say, "We just want to verify the information on your account; please give us your Social Security Number."

Never give personal information to strangers or telemarketers who call you. The easiest way to handle them is to say, "I am busy right now, please give me your name and number and I will call you back."

If the caller claims to be from your bank, look up the number for the bank and call the bank using the number that you look up - do not trust or use the number given by the caller.

Some callers ask for your account number to transfer money for a donation. Simply say you prefer to mail a check and ask the caller to have information about the charity mailed to your home address.

If You Suspect a Scam or Have Been a Victim

Sadly, some of us will be victims of home repair or phone schemes or break-ins. If that happens it is best to report crimes or ask for help.

Mr. Roberts said, "I was so foolish." He felt he should have known better. Falling for a scam can lead us to be ashamed and embarrassed. Since most of us want to remain independent at home, we might be afraid we will lose our independence if we report the scam. We may think, "My family will believe I cannot take care of myself and will put me in a nursing home."

In many cases, families understand that criminals can be very convincing, and the fact that you are fighting back by reporting the crime shows you are taking care of yourself.

Some people do not report crimes because they are afraid of the justice system, are uneasy about going to court, do not understand the language or know what to expect. Those reasons for not reporting crime are common, but they are not correct.

Police officers and the city and county courts take extra care to help victims of crime. The State of Ohio has special victim's assistance programs. In some cases, you may be compensated for your losses. There are people who will help you if you need an interpreter. Some communities will help you get to and from court and assign someone to be with you in court.

It can almost be guaranteed that you will feel safer if you do report a crime. Feeling safe often means doing your best to care for yourself and your neighborhood. Remember these key points for staying safe:

  • Be aware of your surroundings.
  • Keep your home and garage locked when you are at home and when you are out.
  • Pay attention if you "sense" that something is wrong.
  • Be confident, stand tall, look people in the eye.
  • Report all scams, crimes or attempted crimes to the police.

For more information on staying safe, consult the list below for your county's Area Agency on Aging:

  • Ashtabula County - 440-998-6750 [north]; 440-437-6311[south]
  • Cuyahoga County - 216-621-0303, ext. 1131
  • Geauga County - 440-279-2130
  • Lake County - 440-205-8111
  • Lorain County - 330-326-4800

This article was written by Susan E. Kay, Manager of the Family Caregiver Support Program at the Western Reserve Area Agency on Aging and reprinted with permission from The Alert, a publication of The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland.

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