Opened the newspaper today and there was yet another news item about another elderly couple robbed at home. The stories are disturbingly similar. Two youngsters knock on the door, one of the elderly (living alone or with an elderly spouse) opens the door, the youngsters barge in, pull the gold chain from the lady’s neck, grab whatever else they can, injure one or both of them and run away.
For the young thugs it is probably the easiest way to make money. The elderly are easy targets, the police are stretched too thin to follow up on every such crime, and the victims are shaken, tired and too distraught to take any further action.
If you are a senior citizen reading this or have elderly parents living alone (or with you but alone through out the day when you are in office), here are a few tips that can help you and your parents remain safe when at home.
1. Have a grill door fixed outside your main door. Keep it locked all the time.
A good grill door would cost you Rs 15000 to Rs. 20000. It is a one-time investment and worth its weight in gold. A lot of visitors come by who need not enter your home. These people can be dealt with from within the safety of your house. If you need to sign documents or if they request for water to drink, you can handle it all through the gaps in the grill door. This ensures that for the thugs to reach you, they need to do extra work and spend more time – which dramatically increases the risks they have to take and gives you more time to holler for help. So they usually leave to find easier targets. Remember to keep the keys away from reach of outsiders so the thugs are not able to reach in and snatch your keys. A key holder nailed on the inside of your main door well out of arms length from the outside is an ideal place to keep the grill door key. That way, if you need to let a friend or relative in, you don’t have to walk far to get the keys.
2. Avoid keeping valuables and cash at home.
These are the things that attract the thug in the first place. If you ensure that there are no valuables at home and make sure this fact is known, you immediately become far less appealing to the thieves. Set aside your sentiments and get rid of that thick gold chain around your neck, the gold bangles around your wrist, and the glittering diamond ear studs. Replace them with simple jewelry that look clearly inexpensive (but elegant, of course).
Don’t keep cash lying around or in plain sight. You might ask, “Who can be so stupid as to have cash lying around the house?”, but you would be surprised to know how many people make this mistake! Start using credit cards, get an ATM card and withdraw only as much as your require, keep an account with your neighbourhood kirana shop and pharmacy and settle bills on a monthly basis or have a cheque book ready. And if you need to pay other bills, do it online through net banking. You definitely should not need more than a couple of thousand rupees in cash with you at any given point of time.
3. Don’t let strangers in.
Another cardinal rule and if you have put the grill door, quite easy to implement. In India, every household gets a lot of uninvited visitors every day. Courier agents, grocery delivery, vegetable man, the gas delivery person, the EB meter reader, the used paper collector, the census guy, the person selling encyclopaedias or peddling hundreds of other things from snake oil to eatables, the list goes on and on.
Most of these guys do not have to come into the house. Deal with them through the grill door and be done with it. It is not ill-mannered or discourteous no matter what was taught to you when you were young. Times have changed, and you should too.
If it is somebody you have to let in, (the gas delivery man, the electrician or the plumber you called), check their credentials and only then let them in. Stay with them and keep a close watch until they leave, and make sure you lock the grill door in their presence when they leave. And while they are in the house, make sure you keep all the money and valuables hidden. Don’t let them enter areas where they have no business.
4. Keep all important numbers and a mobile phone handy.
Make a list of all important numbers, print them in bold face, big fonts and stick them prominently in every room. That way, if you fall down, feel sick or need to make a call quickly for some other reason, all the data and tools you need are right there within reach.
Some of the important numbers to maintain are those of your Doctor, the nearest ambulance service, pharmacy, food caterer (if you regularly get food from outside), your nurse/nursing assistant, your physiotherapist, children, relatives, friends and neighbours. Put all these numbers on speed dial on your mobile phone. A mobile phone with a pre-paid card costs nearly next to nothing these days. There are even a few senior friendly phone models available in the market today with big buttons and displays that make it a breeze to use a mobile.
5. Keep the other unwanted visitor out – the mosquito
Of all the unwanted, uninvited visitors to your home, none is more dangerous than the diminutive mosquito. Not only can they make your life miserable by biting you all the time, they can also cause malaria, dengue and other serious diseases, some of which can be life threatening for the elderly. You need to mosquito-proof your home. Mosquito meshes are available and you can fix these on all your doors and windows and when you sleep, you can use one of the large number of easy to use mosquito nets that are available in the market today.
The points listed above are a few simple ways in which to make your life much safer and they neither cost you too much not force you the dramatically change your lifestyle or the way you live. Let not the next news item about robbery be about you.
Here’s wishing you a secure and safe life.