By Josette Keelor -- firstname.lastname@example.org
In an effort to help area seniors not become victims of scams or identity theft, Home Instead Senior Care has launched a public information program to educate seniors and their families on how to protect themselves and their livelihood.
"It's just troubling for me to have to talk about this, because we have seen situations where unscrupulous individuals try to take advantage of elderly people," said Aaron Blight, owner of the national company's Winchester location.
"How in the world could somebody do this? It's just so wrong, but it does happen," he said. "And we've seen it happen in our community with some of our clients."
The website, www.protectseniorsfromfraud.com, allows seniors to access the program from their own homes, Blight said.
Home Instead provides services for seniors in their homes, sponsoring activities for daily living, he said. The company's goal is to be a resource for families.
Potential risks can affect seniors who suffer from physical and cognitive challenges, Blight said.
Blight educates people on who is most likely to become victims of theft, using the acronym ASLIP -- availability, sickness, loneliness, isolation and prosperity.
Thieves target retired seniors who are less mobile and tend to be at home more frequently, Blight said, and criminals will scout neighborhoods looking for individuals who are in that situation.
Those with health conditions and those who don't have much contact with family or friends are potential targets, he said.
"Same idea, if you're lonely and isolated, you might be more trusting of people," Blight said. Because elderly people are more likely to have cognitive problems, he said, they might place their trust in someone who talks nicely to them and seems to be a decent person, he said.
"For younger individuals, we're talking about a different population here," Blight said. "Most adults are kind of streetwise and will be suspicious of something that's out of place; but an elderly person with cognitive impairments, that radar detector isn't as sharp anymore."
"Criminals prey upon that, that's the bottom line," Blight said. "Criminals know that."
"We've seen situations where elderly people who live alone at home, individuals literally will drive by and monitor the home and wait until no one's there and go up to the door and claim that they did some kind of yard work for the senior and then ask to be paid for it," Blight said. "They might do it or they might not do it ... and expect to be paid."
He remembers another senior receiving telephone calls from someone claiming to represent a charity asking for donations.
"He thought that he was being a good citizen and helping others and we were able to get law enforcement involved, and ... the FBI actually came in," Blight said.
"This was right here in Winchester."
He recommends that those not already on the National Do Not Call Registry think about signing up. At www.donotcall.gov, Internet users can add up to three phone numbers where they do not want to receive calls from telemarketers. Once the phone number has been on the list for 31 days, the site says, most telemarketers will not call. Those who have concerns about telemarketers calling numbers on the Do Not Call Registry can lodge complaints with the website.
The website also warns against fraudulent callers claiming to be from the Do Not Call Registry or from the Federal Trade Commission. Those interested can call 888-382-1222 for more information.
"Your home is where you should feel the safest," Blight said. "We don't want people to feel paranoid or anything."
"A lot of this is common sense," he said.
Identity theft, he said, is one of the most frequent crimes affecting people at Home Instead, but while there are easy ways to prevent against the crime, it's becoming more difficult to prevent.
"I do believe that crime has become more sophisticated," Blight said.
He advises his clients shred documents that include personal information, rather than simply throwing them in the trash. Also be wary of callers asking for information like the last four digits of a Social Security number, which can allow thieves access to the senior's financial records or allow them to open new accounts in the senior's name.
"We just want people to be aware of these issues," Blight said, challenging community members to look out for each other. Keep an eye on what goes on in the neighborhood, he said. Pay attention to anything strange going on.
"We have a responsibility to look out for seniors and just protect their interests."
For more information about preventing identity theft or scams that affect senior citizens, visit protectseniorsfromfraud.com.