Aging population a growing target for scammers

Posted: January 27, 2014

CITY COUNCIL yesterday held its first public hearing on an apparently rising crisis in Philadelphia - criminals disguised as utility workers knocking on the doors of senior citizens and robbing them.

Council's committee on public safety is holding hearings on a public-awareness campaign to get the message out to older folks to be more mindful before they open the door to just anyone in uniform.

Councilman Curtis Jones Jr., who chairs the public safety committee, said the most egregious impersonators are appearing as PECO, PGW or Water Department employees with a convoluted "need" to get inside the home. They then rob the victims, either by strong-arm or quietly, under the guise of doing work.

"The uniform aspect of it constitutes a greater threat because we are trained to yield to uniformed authority," Jones said. "In Philly, we're experiencing an aging population - a naturally occurring retirement community. The victim pool is growing."

Philadelphia police and the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging are partnering with some of the local utility companies to launch "Be Sure Before You Open the Door," a public-safety campaign aimed at seniors.

"A lot of it is a hard hat, a radio and a reflective vest," said Francis Healy, special legal adviser to Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey. "Older individuals are very trusting. Some people can con their way in the door. They're not stealing PECO or PGW or PWD uniforms. Sometimes they just have the basics. The key here is being proactive, not reactive."

A family was duped at the beginning of the month when two men who posed as Water Department workers made their way into a home at 20th and Shunk streets in South Philadelphia and stole valuables.

City Council is investigating what it can do to mitigate crimes of this nature, which are difficult to prosecute because the elderly are often reluctant to testify.

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