by Bobby Anderson,
It’s the most wonderful time of the year for criminals looking to cash in on those just trying to spread a little holiday cheer.
In November, Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Officer Corporal Kim Lopez celebrated 31 years in law enforcement.
And for the past several years she has served as the coordinator of the TRIAD program which pairs law enforcement and seniors together in an effort to reduce victimization of the elderly.
She sat down with Senior News and Living to share what criminals are looking for and how you can avoid being a target.
PARK AND RUN
Lopez says the parking lot and the cash register are the two most vulnerable spots for seniors.
“I didn’t get what I have from cop school,” Lopez said. “I went to the professionals and career criminals are very quick to brag about how they selected their victims. Seniors have this vague knowledge of why we always say parking lots are fertile ground. But they need to know which ones and why.
“What I always say is the parking lots you feel the most comfortable in – not good.”
Lopez explained that cops aren’t the only ones who watch people’s body language. When people lower their guard in places where they feel more comfortable their body language eases.
Contrary to what you might believe, parking lots that serve 24-hour businesses are hot spots.
“Career criminals tell me when the drug deal goes bad, the fight is on and the police are in pursuit they want to ditch a car by getting to a parking lot and steal a car,” Lopez said. “They understand something we don’t. Crossing many different jurisdictions in a wide variety of vehicles makes it impossible for us to catch them.”
So consider that the next time you go to a casino, gas station or big box grocery store open 24 hours.
But the No. 1 place to be on your guard, according to Lopez, is the hospital parking lot.
Someone who commits a crime in a small town wants to get to a bigger location as soon as possible.
“People at hospitals are the worst for awareness,” Lopez said. “You’ll see people zoned out of their mind. They’ve been sleeping in a chair, eating out of a vending machine and haven’t showered for two days. They’ve had it. They’re worn out, care worn, and have a laundry list of things of things they are worried about and they’re not paying a bit of attention.
“It’s easier to get someone’s car keys and steal their car in a hospital than anywhere else.”
SCENE OF THE CRIME
Wherever you checkout and pay for your purchases is another favorite spot for criminals.
Getting a shopping cart, even if you’re shopping for something small is a great way to put distance between you and someone looking to gain access to your checks or credit/debit cards.
Cell phones are able to take multiple pictures of the checking account information in seconds. Checks that are written and returned to be thrown away are favorite targets.
If you’re going to continue to write checks Lopez suggests using gel, liquid ink to write with. A criminal can use fingernail polish remover on a previously used check to “wash” it and reuse.
And criminals love to follow around senior men.
“Right there at the register, senior adult men are targeted because they carry way too much cash,” Lopez said.
Lopez has noticed an increase in criminals following senior men around and then using a razor blade to slice a hole in the bottom of the back pocket. The wallet falls, the criminal picks it up and is already several purchases down the road before anyone is the wiser.
Lopez also suggests:
· Getting your form of payment out in the “unmentionables section” of the store and not at the register is ideal.
· Carrying your purse in front of you, with your arm over.
· Use a lanyard wallet you can slip under your shirt.
· Turn your rings around at the register. Don’t advertise what you have so someone can target you.
· Use a pen when punching in your debit card number to prevent the use of criminals using clip-on, heat-sensitive cameras.
· Have your monthly Social Security check direct deposited to one account and set-up an auto transfer to an account linked to your debit card that you use to pay your bills. That way if the card and/or PIN is compromised thieves don’t have access to your entire account balance.