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SALT group tries to protect senior citizens from fraud

March 15, 1997

By JENNYLYNN BROWN

Staff Writer

Deputy Jim Holsinger firmly believes that knowledge is power - especially when it comes to senior citizens faced with con artists.

"I've seen people who have scrimped and saved all their lives. They have money in the bank," Holsinger said. "The next thing they know, they had money, and they're selling their homes."

"It's not the culture they grew up in," Holsinger added. "They don't realize how many sharks are in the water."

Hagerstown's Seniors and Law Enforcement Together, founded last February, is part of the solution, Holsinger said.

"Our goal is to protect seniors and to inform them," said Doris Strine, 68, public relations director for SALT. "They are a large and vulnerable part of our community."

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Seniors in Washington County are more likely to encounter a trickster than a violent criminal, said Holsinger, a Washington County Crime Prevention Officer.

"If you want home repairs, call somebody," Holsinger said. "Don't let people drive up and say, `Hey, do you need some work done?' And don't let anyone (you don't know) into your house."

He said that con artists use empty promises to wheedle money from unsuspecting people.

Some rip-offs happen so often, they get their own names, like "pigeon drop" and "double whammy."

Those schemes promise money, but only after the victim hands over some cash. The con artist disappears - and so does the money.

Holsinger warned not to give out credit card numbers, Social Security numbers or Medicare numbers over the phone.

"It's your phone, you pay the bill," Holsinger said. "The longer the conversation, the more chance of being duped. It's not rude to hang up."

Holsinger said victims of schemes often feel embarrassed to call police, but how else would wrongdoers get caught?

"Don't sit back and take the loss," Holsinger said. "We have no chance to catch anybody if the crime is not reported."

Fraud is not the only topic on SALT's agenda.

"At one of our sessions, everybody got up and practiced the Heimlich maneuver until they felt comfortable with it," said Mary J. Della-Toffalo, 78, president of SALT. "We back up presentations with something helpful to seniors."

One of SALT's largest services is Seniors Calling Seniors, where about 42 callers reach out and touch more than 300 Washington County seniors each month.

SALT also distributes medical information cards and fraud awareness stickers.

The group may start a grocery shopping assistance program, Della-Toffalo said.

SALT will offer personal safety and self-defense seminars on March 25 and April 23. For more information, call the Sheriff's Department at 791-3300, Ext. 553.

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