Saturday, January 14, 2006


Fear of crime has been rated by older people as their most serious problem, according to a 1975 Harris Poll. This poll showed rather astonishing evidence-fear of crime even outstripped concern about health- 23 percent of the elderly rated it as their top problem compared to 21 percent who rated health foremost.
The General Social Survey also shows that more than 50 percent of the 65 population expresses fear about walking in their general neighborhood at night compared to 40 percent for the rest of the population. Researchers have yet to establish the reason why the elderly express above average fear of crime, but it is likely that concern over their ability to recover from criminal victimization may supply the motive. For the elderly, physical injury received in the course of a criminal attack may be more disabling and require a longer period of recuperation. Recovery from financial or property loss may be difficult at best, or impossible at worst. Fear of crime undoubtedly affects the quality of life of the elderly-it causes a greater sense of personal isolation and produces a sense of powerlessness that may lead older people to restrict their activities. Members of minority groups, especially African Americans, suffer most acutely from the problem of crime.
Considering the greater fear of crime among the elderly, it may seem odd that the young actually experience a higher rate of criminal victimization than the old-crime afflicts them much more frequently. U.S. crime statistics show that the young are three times more likely than the old to be targets of household larceny and burglary, five times as likely to encounter personal larceny (theft of property outside the home), four to five times more likely to have a vehicle stolen, and four to five times more likely to suffer assault and rape. Purse snatching, pick pocketing, and fraud represent the only areas where the elderly exceed the young in encounters with crime.
In a recent year criminal victimization (meaning violent crimes and larceny/theft) in the total population was 95.6 cases per 1,000, whereas for the elderly (65 ) it was 23 per 1,000. This represented a decline from 30 per 1,000 in 1980, the peak year for victimization of older people. Typical annual rates for personal and household crimes are as follows:

SOURCE. Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics.

Of all these crimes, fraud is most likely to cause personal devastation to the older individual because it may result in the loss of an entire lifetime of savings painstakingly built up to supply essential income during the late years. One example of a fraudulent swindle is perpetrated by criminals masquerading as bank examiners. In this instance a phony bank examiner contacts an older individual with a request that he or she withdraw a large sum of money from a bank account to be used to trap a bank employee suspected of embezzlement. The victim is promised a reward and assured that the funds will be returned when the employee has been arrested. The person turns the funds over to the presumed examiner, receives a receipt and the reward, and then waits in vain for the funds to be returned.
Other frauds directed at the elderly include misrepresentation of health insurance information to solicit purchase of insurance already covered in Medicare supplementary policies, outright insurance fraud, real estate investment schemes in poor acreage or swampland, inducement to invest in worthless businesses or securities, diamond sales of artificial or overpriced stones, and so on. Not infrequently, schemes that separate older people from their cash and lifelong savings may qualify as legal but be so risky as to have virtually no chance of success. Often investments in risky and marginal "get rich- quick" projects, such as limited partnerships in oil well drilling programs or tax-sheltered real estate, are nothing more than a front for individuals who seek to gain sales commissions or capital for their own personal use rather than for serious business enterprise.
These risky investments are sometimes sold by apparently respectable people who are themselves elderly and move freely in retirement communities or organizations with large numbers of older members. They make their sales pitch under the guise of friendly financial advising, but they are, in reality, completely indifferent to the well-being of their clients and merely want the commission they will derive from the sale. Without conscience, these individual will induce financially inexperienced widows to mortgage mortgage-free homes, draw out lifetime savings, cash in annuities, etc. to invest in schemes so risky as to have virtually no chance of success.
The best guard against fraud and confidence schemes is to rely on reputable and conventional banks and brokerage houses and to review potential investments with certified public accountants and established attorneys.
Jamieson, K. M., and Flanagan, T. F., eds. Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics. U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1987.
Schick, F. L., ed. Statistical Handbook on Aging Americans. Phoenix: Oryx Press, 1986.
U.S. Bureau of the Census, Statistical Abstract of the United States: 1989. 109th ed. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1989.


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