Older adults in the United States are more likely to live alone compared to seniors in other countries, where, on average, larger extended family households are more the This independence brings with it a few safety considerations when it comes to preventing crime as you go about your day, whether it's at home, online, while shopping, traveling in your car, or walking on the street. We've gathered tips to help keep you out of harm's way, in and outside your home.
Crime Prevention Tips at Home
Practice Basic Safety
- Have deadbolts installed on your doors, and keep all doors and windows locked.
- Draw the curtains at night, and keep the outside and inside of your house well lit.
- Install motion sensor lights outside, and use automatic timers on lamps.
- Install a peephole in your door.
- Do not leave extra keys in obvious places outside.
- If possible, install a home security system.
- If you live in a building with an elevator, do not remain in an elevator with a stranger if you feel unsafe. Do not buzz anyone in unless you are certain you know who they
Safeguard Your Mail
- Retrieve your mail as soon as possible from your mailbox, or set up a P.O. box, so sensitive mail cannot be stolen.
- When possible, mail letters directly at the post office or with your postal worker.
Set up Direct Deposits for Benefit Checks
- Physical checks can be stolen from mailboxes or easily picked up by someone who enters your home. It's best to have your benefit checks deposited directly into your account.
Never Allow an Unsolicited Contractor to Enter Your Home
- Keep your doors locked, and do not invite them in. Ask for identification, even if they say it is an emergency.
- If necessary, call the company to confirm the individual is meant to be there.
- Call a neighbor or 911 if you sense something is not right.
Protect Yourself From Financial Elder Abuse
- Maintain control over your finances, and monitor accounts for abnormal withdrawals.
- Regularly review your will, power of attorney, and property titles.
Crime Prevention Tips While You’re Out and About
- Carry as few cards as possible in your wallet – that goes for identity cards and credit cards alike. This will save you many headaches if your wallet is lost or stolen, and it helps prevent identity
- Always keep your purse close to your body and never leave it in a shopping cart.
- Avoid carrying large amounts of cash.
Engage in Good Cell Phone Habits
Carrying a cell phone with you is a good idea for many reasons, including getting in touch with loved ones or calling for help during an emergency. Just don't let it distract you from what's going on around you. Thieves target people talking on phones or texting while taking a walk or shopping. Smartphones are frequently stolen right out of people's hands, so keeping it out of sight is best. You can check your texts and play games when you get home!
Use the Buddy System
Avoid walking alone after dark or in areas that are known to be dangerous.
Crime Prevention Tips While You’re in Your Car
Run a Tight Ship
- Keep all doors and windows locked and windows rolled up, particularly at stoplights.
- Keep any valuables locked in the trunk.
- To avoid breakdowns, keep a full tank of gas, and don't skip maintenance checks.
- Check the front and back seats for intruders before getting in the car.
- Do not pick up hitchhikers.
Sit Tight if Your Car Breaks Down
Pull as far over to the right as you can, and raise the hood of the car to signal a breakdown. Wait inside your car with the windows rolled up until the police arrive.
Financial Crime Prevention Tips
Keep an Eye on Your Checkbook and Bank Account
- Monitor your account for bounced checks or stolen checks, and ensure that the check you wrote was cashed by the institution or person you wrote it to.
- Use permanent ink when writing checks to prevent alterations.
Monitor your Credit Reports
Regularly check your credit reports for any incorrect information or signs of identity theft.
Consider an Identity Theft Service
There are numerous companies that monitor identity theft and help protect your personal information. Some come with resolution services as well.
Be Wary of Telemarketers
- Register on the Do Not Call List to help prevent telemarketers from reaching you at home.
- When in doubt, hang up the phone. It may feel as though you are being rude, but, telemarketers are trained to keep to their “script” and keep you on the line. This advice also applies to people claiming to collect money for charities; it pays to be skeptical.
- Never give out your personal financial, Social Security, or Medicare information over the phone unless you made the call yourself. If someone calls you asking for information, ask them to send something in writing.
Be Wary of Phone Scams
Phone scams can feel threatening and urgent. Rather than give in to the demands of the caller, hang up the phone, and call your family member, accountant, attorney, or utility directly. Verify what the caller is saying before taking any action.
Common phone scams include:
- The caller announces that you won the lottery.
- A law enforcement officer says you have to pay bail for a family member.
- A hospital calls you to pay for a family member's emergency operation.
- The IRS claims that you owe back taxes and if you don't pay over the phone, they will seize your property.
- A utility company claims you have unpaid bills, and your services are due to be cut off.
- A person calls posing as a grandchild and asks for help with a financial problem.
Quick Tip: Want to learn more about common scams that target older adults? Head over to our guide to senior scams. It covers popular scams and ways to avoid becoming a victim.
How to Prevent Cyber Crimes Online
A Strong Password Is Your First Defense
- Your computer, router, and online accounts should have strong and different passwords of 10 or more characters that include numbers and symbols.
- Avoid using easily guessed names or personal information, and store them in a secure spot that is not near your computer.
Install Antivirus software
Companies like McAfee and Symantec provide programs to scan your computer for viruses. Download and use them regularly.
Beware of Snake Oil Salespeople
There are numerous pop-up ads and spam email campaigns that claim any number of bogus results for their products. These range from counterfeit prescriptions to phony diabetes cures to fake Botox treatments. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Scan Your Emails for Phishing Scams
A simple tactic to gather your private information is to ask you to “update or verify your account.” These emails can seem legitimate, but if something does not seem correct, go directly to the main site for that group or institution. Never click on links in an email unless you are positive that it is legitimate.
Pare Down Your Social Media Profile
- Put as little personal information on your profile as possible.
- Do not accept friend requests from people you do not know.
- Do not click on links in direct messages that seem like spam, even if it seems like it is coming from a friend.
Be a Savvy Online Dater
- Read the terms on the site regarding how they verify If the site or app doesn't do a thorough job vetting users, consider another site!
- Do not give out any personal information, including your address, email, or date of birth.
- Conduct all communications on the site.
- Never send money.
- End communications if the individual avoids meeting you in person, and be especially wary of international prospects.
- Do an image search of their photo to screen any fraudsters that reuse fake accounts and/or steal other's photos off the internet.
What to Do if You Are the Victim of a Crime
If You Fall Victim to a Scam
Call the police or district attorney's office.
- Report your experience immediately to the police or your District Attorney's office.
Take immediate action on any affected accounts.
- Call your bank or credit card company.
- Cancel any credit or debit cards linked to your stolen account.
- Reset passwords and personal identification numbers.
Report fraud and cyber crimes.
- Be part of the solution by reporting cyber crimes to the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center.
- Report fraud to the FTC.
If There Is an Intruder in Your Home
- If you arrive home and think someone may have entered, do not enter the house; leave immediately and call 911.
- Go to a neighbor's house or nearby business until authorities arrive.
- If an intruder enters while you are at home and you are unable to exit, call 911. Retreat to a room that can be barricaded or locked, or hide. Stay on the line until help arrives. Stay silent and avoid confronting the intruder.
If Someone Tries to Steal From You While You're Out and About
- If you are threatened or attacked on the street, make as much noise as possible to draw attention to the situation and scare off the intruder.
- You can wear a whistle around your neck as an added alert system, but weapons are not advised as they can be used against you.
- Call 911 and report the incident as soon as you are able.
If You Are a Victim of Elder Abuse or You Suspect Elder Abuse Toward a Loved One
- Call 911 if the situation is life threatening.
- If you have suspicions of elder abuse, report it to the National Adult Protective Services Association.
- Call a senior helpline.