Porter County Sheriff's Department

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Police Warning

Porter County Sheriff David Lain talks to seniors Tuesday at a meeting

for the St. Paul Altar Rosary Society at St. Paul Church in Valparaiso.

Lain discussed various health and safety concerns for the elderly.

Police warn residents, especially seniors, not to open door to strangers

Trouble knocking at your door?

By Ken Kosky | Posted: Friday, November 13, 2009 12:05 am


Region seniors are being warned -- don't answer a knock at your door unless you know the person on the other side.

Local police officials say we've reached the point where people, especially the elderly, shouldn't open their door unless it's a friend, family member or expected delivery or repair person.

Northwest Indiana's elderly residents have lost thousands of dollars to the scam teams that use one man to distract homeowners while the second man steals money from their home. These criminals pose as utility workers, tree trimmers and even long-lost acquaintances to gain the confidence of their targets.

In October, Milton McClendon, 78, and Ruby McClendon, 76, opened the door of their Hammond home to two teens who pretended they had car trouble and needed to use the phone, according to reports. Police said the teens robbed and killed the elderly couple.

Hammond Police Chief Brian Miller said a gag order prevents him from discussing the McClendons' deaths, but he said the time has come to stop answering the door for strangers and trusting what strangers say.

"I believe we live in a different day and age," Miller said.

Miller said people who hear their doorbell ringing and see a stranger should strongly consider calling their local police department immediately to have the person checked out.

"One of two things will happen (if police are called)," Porter County Sheriff David Lain said. "They (the person at the door) run like hell, which tells you everything you need to know, or they'll wait patiently and confirm their identity when the police officer arrives."

Miller said it's better to have an officer spend a few minutes of time and delay someone at the door than possibly become the victim of a crime.

Miller said criminals have followed elderly people from banks and stores to their homes.

But a lot of times, criminals drive around and spot homes that appear to belong to the elderly, Lain said. Some telltale signs: wheelchair ramps, large cars (especially with handicapped plates or placards), older people sitting on the porch or signs that say things like "grandchild crossing."

But Lain said even if a criminal targets an elderly person, the elderly person can fight back by not answering the door and by calling police.

According to Miller, scam artists target the elderly because they're more trusting.

Lain said con artists succeed because they are often friendly and pretend to be familiar with them or a neighbor. He said some might even have fake identification badges. So, if a person shows up claiming to represent a utility or company, people should call police or call the utility using a telephone number in the phone book, not a number provided by the person at the door.

People also need to be wary of people coming door to door offering to do driveway sealing, roof repairs and more. They often use substandard materials or leave once they get payment, so it's much better to deal with an established local business, Lain said.

Lain often tells of a rural Valparaiso woman in her late 70s who was lured out of her home by a man posing as a worker. While the woman was outside, the fake worker's partner went inside the home but was surprised to find the woman's parents -- both about 100 years old -- inside the home. The home intruder was quickly harassed and chased off by the sharp centenarians.

Crime prevention tips for seniors

-- Always keep doors and windows locked. Install deadbolt locks on all your doors.

-- Keep your home well lit at night, inside and out, and keep your curtains closed at night.

-- Install a peephole in your front door so you can see callers without opening the door.

-- Ask for proper identification from deliverymen or strangers. Don't be afraid of asking if they are legitimate.

-- If a stranger asks to use your telephone, offer to place the call for him/her yourself. Never let a stranger into your home.

-- Do not leave notes on your door when you are gone, and do not hide your keys under the mat or in other conspicuous places.

-- Never give out information over the phone indicating you are alone or that you won't be home at a certain time.

-- When you are gone for more than a day, make sure your home looks and sounds occupied. Use an automatic timer to turn on lights and a radio or TV.

-- Have your paychecks or government checks sent directly to your bank account.

-- Never withdraw money from your bank accounts for anyone except yourself. Be wary of con artists and get-rich schemes that probably are too good to be true.

-- If you arrive at home and suspect a stranger may be inside, don't go in. Leave quietly and call 911 to report the crime.

-- If you have been swindled or conned, report the crime to your local police. Con artists count on their victim's reluctance to admit they’ve been duped, but if you delay, you help them get away.

Source: Porter County Sheriff's Department

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