Safety for seniors

This is such a complex world now. For people in their 70s, 80s and 90s, the new technologies and fast-paced world can seem overwhelming. My clients often tell me of simpler times, where they never had to lock their doors at night, or they answered the telephone because only friends called, and never thought twice about opening the front door to strangers who would come calling. But the world has changed. Our community does attract disreputable people who call, knock on doors and take advantage of unlocked cars or homes.

For anyone, not just seniors, the feeling of safety is directly tied to your sense of freedom: freedom to walk you dog after dark, freedom to feel safe in your own home or freedom to leave your house and know that your property is safe. But especially for seniors, safety means trying to adjust to this new world while trying to retain the civility of the past.

There are many con games that directly target senior citizens. Because of new technologies and the wonderful civility of seniors, these cons can make thousands of dollars. Some of these scams are foreign lotteries, donations to fake charities, home improvement schemes, sweepstakes and investment scams. These are usually done by telephone or by driving up to the house and offering a service at a great discount, asking for money up front and then not completing the work.

Officer Jennifer Franklin from the Mercer Island police department reports that one of the fastest growing crimes is identity theft. Usually someone calls or e-mails you, tells you they are from your bank or your investment company and they need an update on your personal information. Once someone has your social security number, a few bank numbers and your date of birth, they can then open up many credit cards in your name and quickly spend.

Never, never give out your personal information. Nobody needs that unless you are sitting at the bank opening an account or applying for a loan. “Learning how to say no, firmly and assertively, is a good skill to learn,” reports Officer Franklin. Just because someone asks, you don’t have to answer with out understanding why they need it and what are they going to use it for. Officer Franklin also recommends not opening the door unless you know who is there. Look through the peephole first or if you don’t have that, ask loudly, “who’s there?” If you don’t know the person, you do not need to open the door. I know that when I hear a knock, I need to stop myself from just blithely opening the door. Like Pavlov’s dog, the doorbell or knock cues me to run to the door. We don’t need to do this.

There are still ways to feel safe in this community despite all the unsavory types lurking about. The Mercer Island police department has a great booklet called “Do it Yourself, Crime Prevention” available which discusses how to make yourself and your property safer, and what to do if you are a victim of crime.

Our state’s Attorney General, Rob MeKenna, has a wonderful Web site with good information regarding scams and con games at

Officer Franklin also reminds us to not live in fear but to be smart. “Keep your doors locked, close your curtains at night or when you are not at home, lock your car and garage and never hesitate to call 911.” I often tell my clients to just be cautious and learn the word “No.” It can be extremely helpful to have a little dose of paranoia towards strangers to compliment our penchant for civility and courtesy.

Helpful Resources

National Do Not Call

Registry 1-888-382-1222

Remove your name from junk mail lists: (By writing to)

Direct Marketing Association

Mail Preference Service

P.O. Box 9008

Farmingdale, NY 11735

Betsy Zuber, Geriatric Specialist provides social services to people 55+ and their families who live on Mercer Island. Please contact her at 236-3525, e-mail, or mail MIYFS 2040 - 84th Ave.S.E., Mercer Island, WA 98040.

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