Elderly woman assaulted, robbed; lessons learned


An elderly woman was assaulted and robbed a few days before Thanksgiving. It’s a common crime, to be sure, but not one to ignore.

Her family told me the story, which I share for the lessons. Those lessons include the definition of the ideal target for bad guys — a woman who is old, slow and alone. Other lessons are rethinking what one should carry while out and about, along with corporate policy concerning fraud and communications, especially during the holiday season, a bad guy favorite.

The crime occurred in the driveway of her home of 51 years. The physical damage was “just” a huge bruise on her hip. The emotional trauma is large.

The victim is 91. She moves slowly, using a walker. After shopping at a nearby grocery, she arrived home about 5 p.m. She got out of the car, leaving her purse on the front seat, and was standing at the rear, driver’s side door, when a man approached and began asking directions. The family suspects she was followed home. He said, “She is lost,” referring to the vehicle waiting at the curb.

The man knocked her down, grabbed the purse and jumped into the vehicle, a dark sedan of recent vintage. The man was Hispanic, medium build, well dressed and wearing a light-colored ball cap. She didn’t see the driver.

A neighbor heard her screaming. Police arrived quickly. The purse contained house and car keys, two check books, cash, credit cards, a debit card, and all her identification— driver’s license, social security card, AARP, Medicare, health insurance card and more.

While she was in the ER, the family began trying to close checking and credit accounts. It was nearly impossible to reach Bank of America. Family members called four numbers, twice getting bounced to Merrill Lynch, the brokerage subsidiary.

As the police officers were leaving, a Bank of America credit card staffer called, checking on her card, which, by chance, hadn’t been used since May. The card was used at a Smith’s gas station six minutes before the call and 90 minutes after being stolen.

The next day family members went to BofA’s Albuquerque main office. They found personable, professional staff constrained by information hidden in BofA’s corporate netherworld. Calling the branch resembles calling the rest of BofA.

New accounts were opened, checks ordered and processes started. Remember counter checks? Not available. Days later a new snafu prevented accessing the new accounts.

The family’s other immediate post-assault idea was to alert Smith’s about the fraudulent card use. Perhaps, they naively thought, Smith’s could track down the transaction, check the cameras and tell the police. That’s not Smith’s policy; Smith’s waits for the cops to call.

Asked about a possible quick-response exception, Marsha Gilford, Smith’s media contact, emailed corporatespeak, “Smith’s is very happy to cooperate with local police to help solve crimes and that may include sharing video from our security if they think it is relevant.” In fairness to Ms. Gilford, she should not have been expected to seriously engage the inquiry on a tight deadline. In large organizations, policy things take time. Still, she did respond and that’s good.

The Federal Trade Commission provides excellent identity-theft information. See www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/idtheft.

The victim’s bridge buddies shared their experience. Stow the purse, they advise. Carry what you need in a pocket book that fits your pocket. Carry identification, some cash, one credit card and one or two checks. Leave at home your other checks, your social security card, Medicare ID. The stuff left at home should not be in a desk drawer. Thieves check desks first.

Caution is today’s word. Let’s run from paranoia. But let’s all be cautious, especially the perfect targets – the elderly and the slow.

© New Mexico News Service 2011