In late 2015, Pennsylvania State Police were alerted to a suspicious package being sent in the mail from Hampden Township.
The package, on its way to the Philippines, contained a magazine with more than $14,000 hidden in it, police said. According to police, an elderly couple in Hampden Township sent the money after being told they had won a $750,000 sweepstakes. The money was meant to cover “taxes” for their “winnings,” police said.
A separate package the couple sent containing more than $7,000 was recovered in Florida, according to police.
While the Hampden Township couple recovered the nearly $22,000 scammers attempted to take from them, many other people are not so lucky.
People 65 years or older are vastly more likely to be victims of a crime than they are to be charged with a criminal offense, according to an analysis of court and police records conducted by The Sentinel.
The Sentinel reviewed all criminal charges filed in Cumberland County between 2010 and 2017 and reviewed criminal victimization reported to the Pennsylvania Uniform Crime Reporting System during the same time frame.
People 65 years old or older, the oldest demographic available in the UCR and for population estimates, were 10 times more likely to become crime victims than to be charged in criminal court in Cumberland County, according to the analysis. This was the largest gap aside from people under the age of 18, because the records reviewed by The Sentinel did not include adjudications in juvenile court.
People between the age of 18 and 34 were more likely be charged with a crime than report being victimized to police during the time period of the review, while people 35 and older were more likely to be victimized, The Sentinel found.
Victimization of people 65 or older largely consisted of property crimes.
For example, nearly 80 percent of all victimizations of people in that age group in 2017 in the county came from crimes of fraud, theft, burglary and vandalism, according to the Uniform Crime Reporting System.
About 13 percent of incidents of burglary, theft and fraud were committed against people 65 years old or older in 2017, which comes very close to the 15 percent of the county’s population that is that age, according to U.S. Census Bureau.
The NCOA offers the following tips to avoid becoming a victim:
- Be aware of the risk from strangers and those closest to you. Nearly 90 percent of all elder abuse is committed by the victim’s family, according to the National Council on Aging.
- Don’t isolate yourself and stay active. Isolation allows the older person to more easily become a victim of fraud and abuse, according the NCOA. The NCOA advises finding a reputable elder care location for services or activities. Getting involved in the local senior center can help older residents avoid isolation.
- Never buy directly from a solicitor and request sales information in writing. Purchasing from unfamiliar companies or giving money to unfamiliar charities can open people up to giving money and personal information to a scammer. The NCOA advises getting information like the name, business identification, street address and business license number before giving any money to a business.
- Shred all receipts that have a credit card number. It’s a low-tech form of identity theft, but a receipt thrown in the trash with credit card information on it puts that person at risk that that information will fall into the wrong hands.
- Sign up for the “do not call” list. Signing up for the “do not call” list can reduce the number of telemarketers calling a person’s phone. To sign up call 1-888-382-1222, or visit donotcall.gov.
- Use direct deposit for benefit checks. By using direct deposit, the check goes right into a bank account and eliminates the risk that a physical check will be stolen from a person’s mailbox or while in transit.
- Never give out personal information like credit card or Social Security numbers over the phone unless you initiated the call. One common way people are scammed out of their money is calling and posing as a representative of a reputable business. People can be fooled into handing over their personal information for what they believe is a legitimate purchase.
- Be skeptical of unsolicited offers and thoroughly do your research. Understanding the terms of any purchase is key in preventing being scammed. What sounds like a good deal may turn out to be less so after reading the fine print.
Outside of financial crimes, older residents are underrepresented as victims in some of the most serious offenses.
Nearly 200 incidents of the most severe crimes — rape, robbery, murder, manslaughter and aggravated assault — occurred in the county in 2017, according to the Uniform Crime Reporting System.
People 65 or older were victims in just 5 of those case, or about 2.5 percent of the most severe victimizations.
Conversely, younger people were heavily over-represented in these victimizations. People 18 to 24 make up about 10 percent of the county’s population, according to the Census Bureau, but were victims in nearly 30 percent of the severe crimes in 2017, according to the Uniform Crime Reporting System.