On behalf of members of the New York State Association of Chiefs of Police and the New York State Funeral Directors Association we extend both our deepest sympathy for your recent loss and our sincere hope that you find comfort from your family and friends during this time of grief. Our two organizations have teamed up to prepare this crime prevention article to help reduce the chances of you or your family being victims of a crime of opportunity.
Our goal is to inform you of some unfortunate events that have occurred during times when people are overcome with grief and preoccupied with major family decisions. From a law enforcement perspective, criminal acts can usually be divided into two specific categories; those that stem from an emotional involvement between individuals and those that can be described as "crimes of opportunity." Law enforcement officers have identified the three components necessary for crimes of opportunity to be committed. They are intent, ability and opportunity. If any of these three components are missing the crime simply does not occur. If the criminal has the ability and the intent to commit the crime, the only way you can prevent becoming a victim is by eliminating the opportunity.
What Can You Do to Avoid Becoming a Victim?
- In the obituary columns of most newspapers, information such as name and community of surviving members, times and locations of the funeral arrangements are listed. That practice, although helpful to the reader, sometimes creates additional vulnerability for family members.
- Ask a trusted friend to stay at home during times you will be attending funeral events. If no one is available, consider asking one of your neighbors. In many cases they are looking for something that they can do to help you during this time.
- Set your interior lights to operate on a timer. You may also want to leave a radio or television playing just loud enough to be heard from outside your home.
- Leave your car parked in the driveway and ride with someone to the funeral events.
- Do not stop mail or newspaper deliveries. Ask a neighbor to gather the mail in your absence.
- Telephone answering machines can become effective crime prevention tools. Here are a few suggestions:
- Use it to screen your calls. Pick up the phone after you recognize the caller's voice.
- If you are a female living alone, consider having a male voice record your message. A dog barking
- in the background of the recorded message may also be an effective deterrent.
- Use "We" instead of "I" on your recorded message.
- Avoid telling the caller you are not home now. That enhances the chance of your home being entered.
Avoid Scams Targeting the Bereaved
- Criminals often target families who have recently lost a loved one. Be careful not to become too trusting of strangers. There are countless cases where confidence scams and swindles are perpetuated against trusting people during these emotional times.
- One of the most effective crime prevention techniques involves "slowing the process" down. Asking specific questions and having another family member or friend involved in decision-making is essential.
- Never provide personal information such as social security numbers, credit card numbers, bank account numbers, etc., to anyone calling on the telephone, via the Internet or through unsolicited mail.
- Never pay bills on behalf of the deceased unless you can verify the transaction actually took place. Bogus invoices are often sent to the home of the deceased assuming that the individual handling the estate will simply write a check.
- Never answer questions from strangers calling on the telephone claiming to be doing genealogy research or verifying information printed on a birth or death certificate. Identity thieves can use this to perpetrate crimes.
- Never allow home improvement contractors into your home to begin a project that they claim was contracted/initiated by your loved one prior to their death.
- Never open your home to coin/stamp collectors or estate sales representatives offering to do a free appraisal of the deceased's valuables. Reputable businesses will never "cold call" prospective clients during these times
If you have questions or concerns, the members of your local law enforcement agency or your funeral director stand ready and willing to assist you.
New York State Association of Chiefs of Police, Inc., 518-355-3371
New York State Funeral Directors Association, Inc., 518-452-8230
Adapted with permission from the Wisconsin Funeral Directors Association