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Be 'senior smart' about safety

Posted: November 9, 2008 7:40 p.m.
Updated: November 10, 2008 4:59 a.m.

Seniors in the community are vulnerable targets for theft and scams. Make sure to follow some simple tips to keep yourself from becoming a victim.

An elderly lady is shopping at a local grocery store. She places her unzipped, fairly large, beige purse in the baby seat of the shopping cart. She strolls down an aisle and stops at the tomato sauces. She needs a good sauce to go with the pasta meal she is planning to cook later in the week. As she scans the shelves, a stranger approaches her.

"Excuse me, hi ... Sorry to bother you, but could you help me out?" the stranger asks politely.

"I'm trying to cook dinner for my girlfriend for our anniversary, and I don't know a thing about cooking. I know she loves pasta, though. What kind of sauces are good?"

The elderly lady, happy to give such a loving man advice in an art she mastered over her many years in the kitchen, momentarily leaves her cart to pick out some sauces he might be interested in, explaining the different tastes and ingredients.

Meanwhile, with her shopping cart unattended, another stranger walks by, reaches into the purse, takes out the wallet, and continues to walk down the aisle toward the exit.

The elderly woman returns to her cart after the stranger picked out a sauce, and continues to shop.

Unloading her groceries at the register, she reaches into her purse to grab her wallet.

After dumping all of the contents of her purse out on the floor with no wallet in sight, she realizes she had just become a victim of theft.

Three senior citizens in the Santa Clarita Valley experienced similar scenarios early last year.

Seniors in the community are vulnerable targets for theft and scams, including lottery ticket scams and solicitations.

Avoid becoming a victim
Sheriff's Sgt. Gregg Lewison and Deputy Laurie Baylis recently conducted an hour-long senior safety lecture at the Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center. The law enforcement officers came in to give tips, share facts and remind seniors how to avoid becoming a victim in a variety of crimes.

"It doesn't matter where you are. You can be at the store down the street or in another town," Baylis said. "You can be victimized anywhere."

A lot of the safety precautions might seem like common sense, but law enforcement officers see a lot of crimes committed because people forget the simple things.

"Ladies, never leave your purse in a shopping cart," Baylis said.

Among the tips discussed, Baylis also advised women to buy purses that have a zipper or a flap that buttons. She suggested purses that have a shoulder strap. Its harder to steal a purse if the robber has to get it over the owner's head.

Walk with confidence and an assertive attitude.

"No matter what age you are, 18 years old or 80, people are less likely to attack you if you walk with confidence," Baylis said.

Take bills to the post office. Leaving them in the mailbox outside the home with the little red flag up is an invitation for disaster.

"That red flag is just screaming "Steal me!" Baylis said. "Mail theft is huge."

Be smarter than the criminals
One interesting tip the officers shared was to use gel pens when writing checks.

"The ink won't wash off the check like other pens," Baylis said. "It'll actually ruin the entire check." Other inks are fairly easy to remove and criminals have successfully reused checks to their advantage.

Beware of solicitors who come to your home to offer you discount repairs. "If it sounds too good too be true," Baylis said. "It probably is."

Make a mini list of emergency numbers and place it near every phone in the house. The address to the house should be on this list as well.

"It might sound silly to put your own address on the emergency list," Baylis said. "But if you are incapable of reaching the phone, and a friend is calling 9-1-1, they have quick and easy access to important information."

The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department offers a service to residents that take vacations. The service is called "vacation check" where officers will check the resident's home on a daily basis for the extended vacation period. Officers will stop by the home and patrol the area to make sure everything is in order. To sign up for the free service, or for more information, visit

By following these safety precautions, seniors can be "senior smart."

"You have to be smarter than them," Baylis said.


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