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Don't let home sale open the door to crooks

Published August 18, 2005

I don't know if you have heard about a current scam/theft that is happening to senior citizens, but they need to be made aware of it.

I recently lived in a mobile home park with my mother. This is a retirement community where many live on very limited income. My mother had put her home up for sale. There appeared at our door a very well-dressed, well-groomed lady (I use the term loosely). I had just had gall bladder surgery and was taking pain medication, which was in the top drawer of my dresser in my bedroom. We had been told by the agent listing the home not to let anyone into the house without him being there and to keep medications out of sight.

I was sitting at the table with the sliding glass doors open when I heard someone say hello. This woman had walked in uninvited. She asked to view the home. I told her she would have to wait until the Realtor arrived. She asked to use the bathroom, which I gladly let her do.

The agent took her on a tour of the house. She asked to have a second look, and the agent did not go with her this time.

Right after she left I went to take my medication and it was gone. I then learned from the Realtor that this was the fourth case of this happening in this park alone. It seems a person drives through the park, asking to look at homes for sale, always asking to use the bathroom. As this is where most people store their medications, they go through the cabinets and drawers, taking any pain meds that are available.

This medicine is costly, even with insurance. Since my medications were taken, two more cases of the same type of theft have occurred in the same park, which is only one of many in the area. And no, she didn't give her name and we didn't get her car's license plate number; sure wish I had.

Please let everyone know that no one should be allowed through a home that is for sale without someone else following right behind them.

-- Annie Best

You've done a good job of passing on a valuable lesson. Tampa Police Department spokeswoman Laura McElroy said the best way to protect yourself is to take precautions. If you're selling your home you will have to let strangers in. Apart from securing your valuables, including medication, don't let anyone wander around unescorted, she said. Make sure you are not alone, particularly if you're a woman. Ask a friend or family member to keep you company during the times you will be showing your house. Keep in mind that some crooks travel in pairs. While one distracts you, the other relieves you of your possessions. The more eyes keeping tabs on folks in your home, the better.

We would like to add that while it can feel downright rude to deny a request to use the bathroom, particularly if the person is a potential buyer, the experience of the residents in your mother's park suggests this is not a bad idea. Also, make sure that anyone being shown your home does not leave with the impression that you would be an easy target because your locks don't work, or because you mentioned that you never close your garage.

Recent stories in the St. Petersburg Times highlighted another way thieves try to gain access to your home, by impersonating servicemen. To avoid being one of the estimated 10 percent of seniors nationwide who have become victims of scams, don't let in anyone who shows up at your door unannounced, regardless of the reason given. If they insist, for example, that they were sent by the water company to check your lines, call the utility to make sure. If they refuse to leave, call the police.

As you discovered, even though you did what you thought would protect you by waiting until the Realtor arrived to show the home, this woman still managed to steal your medication. It is possible that had she found them in the bathroom, she would not have requested that second, unescorted look around the mobile home. Unfortunately, the times we live in make suspicion a reasonable response.

-- Action solves problems and gets answers for you. If you have a question, or your own attempts to resolve a consumer complaint have failed, write Times Action, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731, e-mail or call your Action number, 727 893-8171, or, outside of Pinellas, toll-free 1-800-333-7505, ext. 8171, to leave a recorded request.

We will not be responsible for personal documents, so please send only photocopies. Readers must provide a full mailing address, including ZIP code. Names of letter writers will not be omitted except in unusual circumstances. Letters may be edited for length and clarity.

[Last modified August 17, 2005, 15:48:21]

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