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Criminals target seniors. Learn how to protect yourself.

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Last month, during a week of intense rain, Rosalie Thorson (85) discovered her basement beginning to flood. Panicked, she contacted her next door neighbor who diagnosed the problem as being a broken sump pump. Fearing the expense of a plumber, she called a friend who gave her the name of a local handyman, who gave her the name of someone else.

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 “I should have known better,” Rosalie says. “The minute I started talking to him, it felt wrong, like a bad idea, but that water scared me. He said he’d come right away, so I agreed.”

He did, in fact, come right away, and he did confirm the issue as being a faulty sump pump. Although he was able to make the old pump work well enough to clear the water from the basement, the verdict was that a new one was in order. He would go purchase the replacement and come back to install it, but first she would need to pay him up front for the job. When she offered to write a check, he declined saying he would only accept cash.

I knew I shouldn’t. I didn’t know what to do at that point,” Rosalie says. “He seemed like a nice man, and he did come right away. I didn’t want to not trust him.” Reluctantly, she paid him and he left.

“Thirty minutes later, he returned with a box,” Rosalie says. “He went down to the basement and I went back into the living room. A short time later, he came up, said he was finished and left. Later on that night,” she continues, “I went down to check the basement. It was dry, but there was no new pump. It was the same old one. He hadn’t done a single thing!”

Not only did the man take her cash and not do the work; he also stole several unopened vintage bottles of liquor that belonged to her deceased husband. Rosalie never reported it, nor did she tell her friends for quite a while. “It was my fault for being so stupid. I should have known better.”

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Lesson Learned

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“Even though she was scared of the water in the basement,” Sgt. Scott Shafer of the LMPD Crimes Against Seniors Unit suggests, “she should have gone to the Better Business Bureau to find a reputable plumber or legitimate handy-person with a good rating and reviews. That’s the first place to go when looking to hire any kind of help. After that, always get a written contract with a start and finish date, and never pay in full upfront, especially not with cash.” Also, pay attention to instincts. Rosalie had a clear idea that this wasn’t a good situation.

During the spring and summer months, the Louisville Metro Crimes Against Seniors Squad always sees an increase in the number of citizens who fall prey to home improvement scams. The best advice is never do business with anyone you didn’t solicit. Legitimate businesses do not go knocking on doors looking for work. The biggest offenders in this case are driveway sealers, out-of-state contractors, and tree removal services.

Unfortunately, financial exploitation scams targeting seniors are alive and thriving in the community, and they aren’t limited to bogus repairmen who steal. Sgt. Shafer explains, “Currently, the top scam against seniors is the one where a person calls claiming to be the IRS demanding immediate payment (via debit or credit card) for a past due tax bill. They usually say that a sheriff is on the way to their house with a warrant unless the payment is made right then over the phone. The IRS doesn’t call and threaten people. If a call like this is received, hang up.”

Another heartbreaking scam affecting tech savvy seniors involves online dating and accepting friend requests through social media sites.“Seniors can be lonely, so they go online to interact with others. Here, they inadvertently accept friend requests from scammers who have created fake profiles designed to lure them in. These criminals take on the identity of someone trustworthy, such as a military person.” He explains, “The lonely senior gets emotionally invested. Before long the scammer is professing undying love and asking for money so he/she can come marry the victim.” The prospect of finding a partner clouds the person’s judgement and money is sent. The scammers will persist in asking for more and more money and often over long periods of time.

Seniors are targeted because of their vulnerability. He says, “Crimes against the elderly often go unreported because the victim is ashamed or afraid of losing independence if friends or adult children find out. Regardless of this, crime should always be reported, and there’s no shame in it.”

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Criminals are keen at assessing a person’s weakness, which is why it’s important to stay on guard. LouisvilleKy.gov lists further steps that may help:

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Lock up your valuables, including medications, before someone does work in your home.
• Do not allow yourself to be pressured for donations or cash payment.
• Never give personal information out to someone you don’t know.
• Never send money to someone you’ve not met.
• REMEMBER if it sounds too good to be true, IT IS!

P.S. An organization who is watching out for the safety of your parents and 13 things to know about home health