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Crime and Older People



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Older people and their families worry about crime, and with good reason. Though the elderly are less likely to be victims of crime than teenagers and young adults, the number of crimes against older people is hard to ignore. Each year, about two million older people become crime victims.

The elderly are targets for robbery, personal and car theft, and burglary. Older people are more likely than younger victims to face attackers who are strangers. They are more often attacked at or near their homes. Chances are that an older victim may be more seriously hurt than a younger person.

It isnít only strangers who hurt older people. Sometimes, family members, friends, or caretakers may physically, mentally, or financially abuse older people through neglect, violence, or by stealing money or property.

Even though there are risks, do not let a fear of crime stop you from enjoying life. There are things you can do to be safer. Be careful and be aware of what goes on around you.

Fighting Crime

You can fight crime. The best thing you can do at home is to lock your doors and windows. You can also protect yourself at home in other ways:

  • Always try to see whoís there before opening your door. Look through a peephole or a safe window. Ask any stranger to tell you his or her name and to show proof that he or she is from the identified company or group. Remember, it is okay to keep the door locked if you are uneasy.
  • Make sure that locks, doors, and windows are strong and cannot be broken easily. A good alarm system can help. Many police departments will send an officer to your home to suggest changes that could improve your security.
  • Mark valuable property by engraving an identification number on it, such as your driverís license number. Make a list of expensive items such as jewelry or silver. Take a picture of the valuable items and store the details in a safe place like a bank safety deposit box.

On the street, stay alert at all times, even in your own neighborhood and at your own door. Walk with a friend. Try to stay away from places where crimes happen, such as dark parking lots or alleys. You can also:

  • Have monthly pension or Social Security checks sent direct-deposit, right to the bank. If you visit the bank often, vary the time of day you go.
  • Donít carry a lot of cash. Try not to carry a purse. Put your money, credit cards, or wallet in an inside pocket. If you are stopped by a robber, hand over any cash you have.
  • Donít dress in a flashy way. Leave good jewelry, furs, and other valuables in a safe place to avoid tempting would-be robbers.

Money and property crimes come in many forms and are a big problem. Older people may be victims of consumer fraud such as con games or insurance scams. Even family members or friends can sometimes steal an older personís money or property. Trust what you feel. Protect yourself:

  • Donít take money from your bank account if a stranger tells you to. In one common scam a thief may pretend to be a bank employee and ask you to take out money to "test" a bank teller. Banks do not check out their employees this way.
  • Stay away from deals that are "too good to be true." Beware of deals that ask for a lot of money up front and promise you sure success. Check with your local Better Business Bureau.
  • Donít give your credit card or bank account number over the phone to people who have called you to sell a product or ask for a contribution.
  • Donít be taken in by quick fixes or miracle cures for health problems. People who are not trained or licensed may try to sell you miracle "cures" for cancer, baldness, arthritis, or other problems. Ask your doctor before you buy. Be sure to go to licensed professionals.

Neglect or mistreatment of older people is called elder abuse. It can happen anywhere, at home by family or friends, or in a nursing home by other caregivers. Physical, financial, or emotional abuse by family or friends is very hard to deal with. There is help for people who are being abused. Most states and many local governments have Adult Protective Services programs. Check the phone book or call directory assistance. You can also talk to your clergy, a lawyer, or doctor. Your local Area Agency on Aging may help. The Eldercare Locator (1-800-677-1116) can direct you to a local agency.

Reporting Crime

You can help your friends and neighbors by reporting crime when it happens. Police say that more than half of all crimes go unreported. If you donít report a crime, because of embarrassment or fear, the criminals stay on the streets.

If you are the victim of a crime, there is help. Contact the National Organization for Victim Assistance (NOVA), 1757 Park Rd., NW, Washington, D.C. 20010. NOVAís 24 hour hotline is 1-800-TRY-NOVA.

Other Resources

American Association of Retired Persons (AARP)
Criminal Justice Services
601 E Street, NW
Washington, D.C. 20049
(202) 434-2222

Council of Better Business Bureaus
4200 Wilson Boulevard, Suite 800
Arlington, VA 22209
(703) 525-0100
Ask for the pamphlet called "Tips on Elderly Consumer Problems" and other publications.

United Seniors Health Cooperative (USHC)
1331 H Street, NW, Suite 500
Washington, D.C. 20045-4706
Publications are available on a variety of health-related consumer issues.



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