Helping older adults avoid scams and stay safe

Helping older adults avoid scams and stay safe

MetroWest CARES, the Committee Addressing Resources for Eldercare Services, is coordinated by United Jewish Communities with support from the Healthcare Foundation of New Jersey; CARES brings together professionals and lay leaders from MetroWest agencies that provide services to older adults. This month’s article on Senior Safety is presented by the Jewish Community Center of MetroWest. As part of its commitment to offer activities, services, and programs for every age and interest, JCC Metro West provides services to the adult population through the Lautenberg Family JCC in Whippany, the Leon & Toby Cooperman JCC in West Orange and nine senior satellite centers throughout the community.

When you think you’ve heard everything, there is a criminal out there willing to go one step further. A recent scam targeting senior citizens goes like this: A grandmother receives a call from her grandson, who is traveling in Mexico. The grandson is in some kind of trouble and asks for money. “Please help me, Grandma,” he says, “I can’t tell Mom and Dad…” The grandmother says, “Joey, you don’t sound right…are you OK?”

“It’s a very bad connection, Grandma. I’m not OK. Please send the money.”

The grandmother then volunteers her credit card number.

It’s not grandson Joey and the young man is not in Mexico. The caller is a criminal scamming seniors. He has gathered family names and personal information from community announcements or obituaries. He has perfected a muffled-sounding grandson voice and he accepts credit cards, debit cards, and money orders.

Telephone scams are one of a host of safety issues seniors need to guard against. Others include home and vehicle safety, fire safety, ID theft, and personal safety.

What does a typical senior do when she hears a knock at the door? Most of the time, the person at the door will be there for a legitimate reason, whether she is a friend or stranger. But if the caller is a stranger, be alert. Never open your door to a stranger. If a stranger is legitimately at your door, he will not object establishing an identity and reason for the visit. If he refuses to show identification and will not leave, quietly go to the telephone and call the police or the building superintendent.

If the caller produces identification but you are still not sure of the validity of the visit, telephone the caller’s business office for confirmation. If you still feel uncomfortable, do not open your door; ask the caller to return in 30 minutes or an hour. This will allow sufficient time to contact a friend or relative who can be present when the caller returns.

The majority of crimes targeting seniors are crimes of opportunity. A thief is looking for an easy target: a woman walking down a quiet street, a man who has just cashed his pension check, a woman with her pocketbook slightly open. A thief may decide that this is the right place and the right time, and you just happen to be there. According to statistics, a thief is very likely to be a male teenager and a stranger to you. However, a thief could also be an unlikely suspect such as a young girl, a mom with a baby, or even another senior.

The most common street crime is purse snatching. The thief approaches you from behind or face on, catches you unaware, grabs your purse, and runs. It happens so quickly that you do not have a chance to see who the thief is. There have been reports of men having their wallets taken from them by force.

You may ask, “How can I prevent myself from becoming a victim?” There is no foolproof method, but common sense is the best personal protection. Never carry large sums of money, never flash money for all to see, and try not to carry valuables in full view.

To present more tips and information to keep you safe and aware, as a community service, the West Orange Police Department in conjunction with JCC MetroWest and the Margulies Senior Center will host a Senior Safety Seminar, Learn to Protect Yourself.

Officers from the West Orange Police Department Community Services Unit will speak to the group about personal safety, ID theft, home and vehicle safety, and scams. Representatives from other senior safety service providers such as the suppliers of personal safety pendants, bathroom safety bars, and home care agencies will be available and are sponsoring the program.

The Senior Safety Seminar, which is free and open to the public and includes a free continental breakfast, will be held on Monday, June 7, 9 a.m.-noon at the Leon & Toby Cooperman JCC, Ross Family Campus, West Orange. To RSVP for the event or more information, contact Gina Goldman at 973-530-3448 or

Families and caregivers needing answers to broader eldercare questions can contact Elderlink at JFS – a portal to all MetroWest services for older adults and their families. Elderlink can be reached at 973-765-9050 or

read more: