Keep safe and enjoy retirement

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.
  • Internet scams – as internet use among seniors is on the rise so are the variety of sneaky scams to beware of. Senior citizens often fall victim to financial scams.
  • 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

Earthquake Preparedness for Senior Citizens

A new year is upon us and resolutions abound. If you are our family, there is one resolution that seems to slip from year to year and for residents of California, it is an important one – earthquake preparedness. The other morning while enjoying the sunshine outside and reading the paper in bed, my wife and I felt a sudden jolt as the house shook. Both cats were quickly airborne and heading for cover while we looked at each other with wide eyes and waited for the next shake. It did not come and after a few minutes as we willed out heart rates to return to normal we had that discussion that so many have after an earthquake. So, if that had been “the big one”, how earthquake prepared are we? What should we have done? Would we have stayed in the room or attempted to get outdoors? Is our earthquake preparedness kit up to date and ready to do the job?

Drop, Cover, and Hold On – During earthquakes, drop to the floor, take cover under a sturdy desk or table, and hold on to it firmly. Be prepared to move with it until the shaking stops.

Living in California we are supposed to be accustomed to earthquakes with their unpredictability and potential for damage. Having lived through the Loma Prieta quake a mere four miles from the epicenter, I know first-hand what a big quake can do as the house was rocked from its foundation, the chimney collapsed, the water heater was torn free from its base, and kitchen cabinets unceremoniously emptied their contents onto the floor. Fortunately no one in our family was hurt but the event left its mark on us all.

Earthquake preparedness is just common sense if you live in California and other parts of the world that are subject to tectonic activity. But how many of us have actually taken the time to prepare? And for senior citizens, there can be special considerations to address to be truly prepared. With the recent event (it turned out to be a brief and not-to-significant 3.9 quake centered about 20 miles from us but tell that to the cats!) we again did the “earthquake drill” to prepare for the eventual significant event that seismologists promise will occur within the next 30 years. You can find some additional information on preparedness at the USGS website and FAQ page. In the meantime, again leaning on my 52 years as a California resident (born and raised) with numerous earthquakes under my belt, I created the list below and want to share with you.

In an earthquake, should you head for the doorway?

“In modern homes doorways are no stronger than any other parts of the house and usually have doors that will swing and can injure you. YOU ARE SAFER PRACTICING THE DUCK, COVER, AND HOLD under a sturdy piece of furniture.”

Earthquake Preparedness Checklist

1.    Contact outside of the area – when a big earthquake hits, the local phone lines will be inundated with people attempting to reach loved ones to make sure everyone is okay. You need to establish a contact point for family members preferably outside of the state. A central person that everyone agrees to call to check in. We have a friend on Colorado designated and all of us have his phone number programmed into our cells. If you do not do anything else to prepare for an earthquake, set this up today.

2.    Prescriptions – especially for senior citizens who may have a host of health issues, it is important to set aside all of your medications for a period of at least a week. Some health plans will allow for a “back up” prescription for just such a purpose. And remember to regularly update with a fresh prescription so what you have maintains its potency.

3.    Water – according to the USGS, you should set aside enough water for two weeks, assuming one gallon per person per day. If you can safely get back into the house, it is a good idea to fill the bath tub with water as well to provide an additional source.

4.    Food – canned food for two weeks and don’t forget the can opener! If the electricity is down for an extended period of time, you will want to consume what you have in the refrigerator that may spoil. During the Loma Prieta quake, electricity was down for three days which would have been long enough for things to start to spoil. One life saver for us was our propane BBQ. We took food from the freezer and cooked it over the fire and had a little civilization in the midst of the confusion. If you have camping equipment such as stoves and tents, these can also be put to good use.

5.    Clothes – it is possible that an earthquake will happen during the night or when you are in bed. Unless you sleep fully clothed, it is a good idea to keep your shoes, pants, and shirt easily accessible should you need to get outside. Before going to bed, we create a little pile of clothes and shoes on our side of the bed. If we had to exit quickly, we could easily slip them on or grab the pile and run, putting them on once out of the house. I also recommend setting outside an old heavy jacket and warm up pants as well as an old pair of shoes. Something that you would normally donate or dispose of, it does not have to be pretty. But on a cold night, you will appreciate the warmth.

6.    Miscellaneous – a few other items that you will appreciate having in case of an earthquake: flashlights with extra batteries; portable radio to keep up with the developments; fire extinguisher; crescent wrench to turn off the gas line and water main; first aid kit; pet food for the furry and feathered members of the family; a blanket;

Earthquakes are a scary thing even more so since they happen without warning. But we can take steps to prepare as best we can for their eventuality. A few steps such as those above will go a long way to assist you during what can be a difficult time. When is the best time to take care of the list – after the next earthquake? Expect the unexpected and get it done now. This New Years Resolution could save your life.

For additional pointers visit Earthquake Preparedness Guide: How to Stay Safe and Survive.

Don’t forget to pick up a free copy of Navigating the Retirement Jungle, available upon request by mailing to