What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything? ~ Vincent Van Gogh
It can be a scary world out there as evidenced by the steady stream of bad news that we are accosted with each day. Bad things happen to good people innocently trying to live a normal life. Senior citizens can be more vulnerable as aging bodies prevent a speedy response should danger rear its ugly head. Few crooks feel compassion for the elderly but instead see only weakness to be exploited. And yet there is so much beauty in the world to be experienced that few are willing to resign our self to self-imposed house arrest. We are going to get out there and live the life that we want to – heck that is what enjoying retirement living is all about!
To enjoy safe retirement living there are some basic precautions that can be taken. Recognizing scams for what they are and a little planning ahead can prepare us so we are less likely to be surprised or taken advantage of.
Stay safe checklist
Driving and accidents – there are numerous challenges facing senior citizens when it comes to driving, mostly focused on how capable the elderly are of safely negotiating our busy streets. Often overlooked is the importance of being vigilant AFTER a crash occurs. Even the best of drivers may become dazed or distracted immediately following an accident, wander from the car and unintentionally be the victim of further harm. Highway officials advise you to stay in your car with your safety belt fastened, turn on your hazards and drive to the shoulder if possible where you can call 911 and await the arrival of the police. If you are in a residential area with lower speed limits, use your best judgment to exit your vehicle and get to the sidewalk. If you are concerned about exchanging information with the other driver, be sure to write down their license plate number for future reference. Following these steps helps to give you a well defined course of action during a typically fast moving and emotional time.
Most prevalent senior scams – crooks are everywhere, tirelessly in search of their next victim. Too often, the elderly provide just what they are looking for. Seniors like everyone else need to remain perpetually on guard to avoid being taken advantage of. Here are some popluar scams to be on the lookout for:
- Telemarketing and mail scams involving lottery winnings, free travel, or valuable prizes but involving some up-front fee to qualify. Do not trust ANY scam that asks you to pay money up front or provide personal financial information or your social security number to receive your winnings. To discourage telemarketers, you can add your name to the do not call list or call 888-382-1222. And always read the fine print.
- Contractor fraud – having lived in the same place for many years, retirees may be ready for some changes and unscrupulous contractors can start crawling out of the woodwork. Legitimate builders do not go door to door so don’t be “sold” something you do not really want. Common scams include requiring money up front and then disappearing; shoddy work done quickly with no likelihood of lasting; using entry to your house to rob you. I recommend you review any prospective contractor at the Better Business Bureau and ask for referrals to check out work done in the past. Don’t allow yourself to be bullied into working with a contractor that you are not 100% comfortable with.
- Help, I need bail money – callers posing as family members tearfully ask for your help to get them out of jail by wiring money. One senior citizen was recently scammed out of $8000 by thieves posing as his grandson using this heartless approach. If you are in doubt – as you should be – ask some personal questions that only the genuine caller would know before you even think of wiring funds.
- Public utility imposters come to your door and while one distracts you the other steals valuables behind your back. Don’t let anyone in the door and ask for identification before you talk to anyone. If for any reason you do not trust the person, just do not let them in.
- Medicare drug discount cards cannot be sold over the phone or door to door. Additionally, you should never need to prove your income because Medicare can find that from the IRS. Anyone asking for bank account information in this case is likely trying to rip you off. Stay safe and visit the Medicare website or call 800-MEDICARE for legitimate card information.
- Overpayment scams – you sell something online on eBay or Craigslist and the buyer sends you a check that is more than the amount of the sale – oops. “Just send back the difference” he requests but the check is fake and any difference you return is lost money.
- Stranded in a foreign country – thieves can hack into an email or Facebook account and pretend to be that person who you know and trust. Then they send out a plea for help as they are stranded in a foreign country and need some cash wired to get home.
- Email containing links with no subject or context – similarly if you receive an email from someone you know but with no subject line and/or a link with no context explaining what it is, do NOT click on the link. If you are curious, forward the email back to your friend and ask for their confirmation that it came from them. Remember, once you click on the link, you cannot unclick it.
- Visit consumer protection for seniors for some additional pointers.
Avoiding personal injury – seemingly insignificant injuries to senior citizens can develop into serious problems. As we age, the danger of falling and the subsequent injury rightfully scares the elderly. Remember to focus on your balance as you walk and navigate the streets. Do regular exercise to maintain strength and stamina. And take it easy – all things in their good time and rushing hastily onward is when you lose control.
Home security – your house is supposed to be your castle but these days it doesn’t always seem that way. Some precautions to help secure your abode include:
- Talk through your closed door – a chain on the door offers only a false sense of security and is no real protection.
- Always ask for identification – if someone wants to come into your house, have him slip his ID under the door first. If you are still in doubt, check with the person’s office before letting him in.
- Have lights on when you are away – timers are a good idea as well for a radio to make some noise. You want your house to appear occupied at all times. Burglars are looking for the easiest targets first.
- Always lock your door whether you are at home or out.
- A dog can be a deterrent, even little noisy ones. Burglars may not fear the size of the hound but they do not want barking to attract attention.
- Alarm systems – to be most effective, alarm systems should have wiring concealed. Work with a reputable, brand name company. And ask for references to talk with current customers. You will generally have the option of including a service that directly alerts the local police department when the alarm is triggered. This is an additional cost but typically also includes an emergency button that you can press when threatened to summon the cavalry.
Personal security when you are out and about
- Walk with someone – not only fostering mentally stimulating conversations it is good do walk with someone. Four eyes are better than two!
- Stick to populated, well-lighted areas.
- Carry a cell phone.
- Bring the dog.
A bit of planning and some basic precautions can provide a little peace of mind and improved safety. Although we cannot prevent everything we do not want to be easy marks for crime. Most importantly we do not want to let fear prevent us from living! It is a wonderful life and a glorious world around us and no one should stand in our way of experiencing all there is. Today is the first day of the rest of our lives so let’s get to it.
Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. ~ Helen Keller