By Margie Wuebker
ST. MARYS -- The telephone rings and the caller congratulates you on winning a national sweepstakes. There is only one catch -- you have to send a money order to cover the cost of taxes and processing.
Warm weather signals the start of home maintenance season. Just when thoughts of roof repairs, window replacement and driveway resurfacing pop up like spring flowers, a pickup truck bearing out-of-state license plates pulls up to the house. The self-proclaimed handyman offers a package deal and then requests money to purchase needed supplies.
People in attendance at a caregiver program hosted by the Auglaize County Council on Aging learned this week that such scenarios -- often scams -- unfold frequently throughout the area.
Auglaize County Sheriff Al Solomon noted older people usually are the target of such scams because they tend to be more trusting and accommodating.
"Don't fall for something that seems too good to be true," he said. "If you are in doubt, check it out and never, never give out important numbers over the telephone." Calls requesting such information frequently occur between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. -- a time period when many senior citizens are home.
Solomon recommends waiting for three or four rings before picking up the telephone or checking caller identification.
"If you don't want to talk to the caller, you don't have to," Solomon said. "After all, it's your home and your telephone. Simply hang up."
Many senior citizens do not lock their doors, creating an unfair advantage to thieves on the prowl. The sheriff recommends hiding a spare key or giving it to a loved one or trusted neighbor.
"Do not put the key under the mat or in the flower pot," the sheriff warned. "The bad guys we deal with know all the usual hiding places."
Solomon recommends the use of timer-regulated lights to give the appearance someone is home. However, it is better to alternate rooms because a light burning in the same room night after night sends a clear message to would-be thieves.
Leaving a television or radio on during short absences also deters break-ins.
"Most of the bad guys we deal with are stealing because they are lazy," he added. "A lot of them are more afraid of you than you are of them. The sound of a radio or television is more than enough to make them head to greener pastures."
Solomon also told a story about a Grand Lake area resident who opened the back door to a contractor with out-of-state license plates and minutes later an accomplice entered the front door. He asked to use the bathroom and then proceeded to look through bedroom drawers and closets. Time passed quickly as the woman and the contractor conferred at the kitchen table giving the other man all the time he needed.
"A reputable contractor will have a good quality business card, and he will not mind a reference check," the sheriff said. "Don't be gullible; call us if you don't feel comfortable."
Shopping trips also pose a threat to old and young alike, particularly at large shopping centers with expansive parking lots.
Solomon recommends having car keys in hand before venturing outside and then quickly surveying the area for suspicious looking characters. Many people tend to hit an electronic device unlocking car doors and turning on interior lights from a distance of 20 to 25 feet giving a prospective assailant the intended destination. He suggests waiting until you are no more than three feet from the car before activating the device. Then get inside, lock the door and leave the premises.
"We live in a relatively safe area here in Auglaize and Mercer counties," he added. "However, that does not mean we can let down our guard. Be less trustful and more skeptical to prevent becoming another statistic."