How seniors can help police stamp out scammers

Written by on July 21, 2010 in For Seniors, Neighborhood News - No comments

Bernie Madoff - Ponzi Scammer

Bernie Madoff - Ponzi Scammer

The copy of the police report was simple, but telling:

Fait Avenue, 3100 block, June 15, 2:39 p.m. An elderly woman answered a knock on her door and a man told her that he worked for Baltimore City and would like to know whether she was interested in a handicapped parking space. She let him into the house, whereupon he told her he would have to perform an inspection of her home to determine if she was really handicapped. She later realized that cash and jewelry had been taken.

All too often, senior citizens become the victim of criminals. Sometimes, it’s a scam. Sometimes, it’s an outright burglary. Here are a few common techniques thieves are using, and how to avoid them:

1. Knock, knock: It’s the first line of countless jokes, and the opening move of countless burglars. In many cases, a person (or more than one person) will come to a senior’s door, claiming they need access to the house. Once inside, they will steal property.

The Baltimore Police Department has taken reports of criminals claiming to be police officers who need to search the area for suspects, water department or BGE workers, Department of Aging officials, fire inspectors or insurance claims adjustors who want to check on damage caused by a fire down the street, cable or satellite TV providers, and more.

After gaining admittance to the houses of seniors, the suspects stole money and valuables while pretending to do home inspections, after requesting to use the bathroom, or while the homeowner was busy looking for something such as a driver’s license, that the suspect had requested they show.

Remember that no repair technician, city official or other legitimate worker will show up at your door without an appointment. Everyone (including insurance adjustors, cable technicians and more) make appointments in advance at residents’ requests only, and will have I.D. Handicap parking passes are regulated by the DMV, not by the city. Seniors who are approached by unauthorized personnel should refuse to admit them to the house. Call 911, even if they run away.

2. Home Improvement: It’s not uncommon for scammers to approach the elderly and tell them they’re an independent contractor who can perform home repairs, such as roofing, fixing downspouts or repairing Formstone. Their trademark? They’ll ask for cash in advance in order to buy supplies they don’t have ‘at the moment,’ and will never return to do any work. They may also steal valuables from the resident while he or she is in another part of the house, getting money or a glass of water for the ‘worker.’

One good way to scare off scammers is to ask to see company identification and a copy of the person’s MHIC (Maryland Home Improvement Contractor) license. Call 911 when the would-be contractor balks at that request, or refuses to show it, says they don’t have it with them, or if they start pressuring for payment to get the job done immediately.

3. “Don’t I know you?” Some elderly residents have reported being followed home from church, the supermarket, etc. by a person who claims to know a friend or a relative, or who says, “I took care of you in the hospital,” then asks to be allowed into the house for water, to use the bathroom, for a pencil to write a note with, etc. Refuse entry and call 911.

In many cases, say law enforcement officials, victims were just trying to be friendly and helpful, and got robbed as a result. Try a new tactic: be standoffish and stay safe.

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