07/27/05 — Security expert: Citizens need to protect themselves

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Security expert: Citizens need to protect themselves

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on July 27, 2005 1:45 PM

With more crimes against the elderly and an increase in cases of identity theft, citizens must become more tuned in to their surroundings, a senior citizens group was told recently.

Corporal Teresa Cox works on the crime prevention unit for Goldsboro police. She spoke to WAGES Foster Grandparents and Senior Companions during in-service training for July.

"You have to think like a criminal and how the criminal mind thinks," she said.

"When you're out in the community, and you see a suspicious person and the hair on the back of your neck stands up suggesting that they don't belong in that area, call us."

Mrs. Cox said when she was growing up, she couldn't do much of anything without her parents finding out about it. Now, she appreciates the importance of "nosy neighbors."

"We want everyone to be nosy neighbors," she said. "When I moved into my neighborhood, I looked for nosy neighbors."

She said gone are the days of being able to sit at home with the screen door open to get some cool air "because the minute you go into the kitchen to fix some collards, somebody might crawl in the window."

She challenged those in attendance to learn how to better equip and protect themselves.

Checking the shrubbery around the house, particularly in front of windows, is one way to foil someone from hiding or gaining easier access inside.

She also suggested monitoring the exterior lighting at the home. She said there have been cases of residents returning home to find the lightbulb on the front porch gone, only to shrug it off without a thought.

"Some people think, 'It's only a dollar; I'll just get a new one,' but it didn't unscrew itself.

"If the lightbulb is gone, call us. It may be that someone removed it and plans to return."

Calling the police, Mrs. Cox said, draws attention to a situation and often can prevent a crime from being committed.

"It lets us know someone's in the neighborhood trying to do some devilment and we want to know about it," she said.

Knowing one's surroundings and paying attention are important.

"If you are in the park, walking around the mall, in the hospital, and you feel like somebody's following you, look at them, maybe even greet them," she said. "Chances are if they know you have seen them, they're not going to try to harm you."

Even in places considered safe, caution should be exhibited.

"Whenever you go to church, choir, Bible study, and they ask you to come to the altar, some of us will leave our purses right there," she said. "Even though you're in a holy place, there are some people that will take advantage of that situation and rob you blind. And before you finish praying, before you leave that place, they'll have charged up your credit card."

Identity theft is on the rise, Mrs. Cox said, with the elderly population being targeted.

"You spend your whole life working so that you can get the things that you want when you retire, when you decide to take it easy and do what you want to do," she said. "You're a prime subject."

Using Social Security cards as an example, she asked how many carried the card wherever they go. The majority of the audience indicated they did.

"How many of you have used that within the last week?" she asked, receiving a much smaller response. "So why carry that Social Security card?"

She said that with other identification in a wallet, a thief could use the Social Security to seal the deal, opening a phone account, a bank account, racking up charges on a credit card.

Likewise, she said, phone bills contain information that a would-be criminal could use to cancel or transfer phone service. She suggested shredding phone bills, paying particular attention to the account number that could be used for other purposes.

"Be careful," she said. "Protect your information."

Several others tips offered include:

*Don't leave purses or billfolds in the car. Even if they're empty or contain no valuables, their presence invites a break-in.

*Don't leave purses unattended in a shopping cart.

*When out of town for an extended period, stop the mail and newspaper or have someone pick them up; while away, ask a neighbor to park a car in your driveway; and use timers on lamps, stereos and TV to give the appearance that the house is occupied.

*Be suspicious of any mail coming to the home with another's name on it.

"Instead of throwing it away, thinking it's an accident that it went to your house, check it out," Mrs. Cox said, as it may be a tip-off to a case of identity theft.