If you were going to mug someone, would you pick a burly football player or a gray-haired woman with a purse hanging from a thin strap on her elbow?
A thief or mugger would choose the easier mark -- the grandmother over the defensive tackle.
Confidence men and women, or "con-artists," also prefer older victims whose loneliness, isolation and available cash make them vulnerable to scams, say police and advocates for seniors.
"We have found older people tend to have higher victimization rates in con games, purse snatchings and strong-arm robberies," said George Sunderland, manager of criminal justice services for the American Association of Retired Persons.
On the brighter side, he said, seniors have very low rates of being victims of the three most violent crimes -- murder, rape and aggravated assault.
To prevent seniors from being sitting ducks they learn some tricks from Tfc. James Emerick, a state police crime-prevention specialist who is conducting a monthly program through next April at the Westminster Senior Center. Each month, he'll focus on a different way seniors can protect themselves from crime.
Emerick's first talk, conducted Thursday, was on what he called one of the most effective prevention tools -- a Neighborhood Watch program.
Seniors have an important role in neighborhood watches, Emerick said, because they are at home during the day and can keep an eye on neighborhood activities.
"You not only protect yourself, you protect your community and stay active," Emerick told seniors. He said seniors can offer the watch service in exchange for younger neighbors helping them install better locks.
"Young couples work all day and are gone," Emerick said.
"You have the extra hours during the day to call the police when the streetlight is out."
To help watch participants protect property and each other, a trooper will teach them how to survey their homes for weak points where a burglar can get in. Also, the police provide description forms to describe such things as a suspect's hair color, height, age, clothing, license plate number and shape of eyeglasses.
Just this month, an alert neighbor helped police arrest a woman charged with stealing antiques from the elderly owner of Westminster Antiques on Spring Mill Road.
Emerick said state police believe Julie Barnes Wilt, 32, falsely told the dealer that she was a member of the Carroll County Historical Society to learn the value of antiques.
The owner had reported some items stolen Sept. 6. Neighbors who knew of the theft spotted a strange car the night of Sept. 12 and called police, Emerick said.
Police found Wilt in the bushes and several antiques stacked on the back porch, Emerick said.
The incident is an example of how people can take advantage of trusting seniors and how a neighbor can stop a crime in progress, he said.
Emerick said Fink should have called the Historical Society to find out whether Wilt was legitimate.
"I really think we have to watch out for each other and protect each other," said Angela Saxton, 64, of Logan Drive, after listening to Emerick and Tfc. Buck Warfield.
She said she plans to ask the Carroll Meadows Homeowners Association to start a Neighborhood Watch. But Saxton already has a watchful eye of her own. She witnessed a theft in June 1989.
"It was during the day. People were stealing lumber from the builder. I called the police, and they caught them en route to Reisterstown," she said.
"I had to go to court and testify," she said. "I had some concerns there would be some retaliation, but I felt it was a very necessary and responsible thing to do, to report it. Too many people don't want to get involved, and that's a problem in our society."
"We don't want you to confront the people," Emerick told seniors.
"But at the very least, call us."
Warfield said 90 percent of break-ins occur between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., because intruders don't want to confront anyone. But he said the burglar might not realize a senior is home during the day, so seniors should lock doors even when they're inside.
More so than burglaries, crimes such as fraud or con games are usually aimed at older people, said Emerick and Sunderland. Some of the most common frauds are: * "Pigeon drop." The con artist makes it look as though he and the intended victim find a large sum of cash on the street or some other public place. The con artist suggests the victim put up some good-faith cash while they decide what to do with the found money. Through switches and sleight of hand, the victim ends up with fake money or paper behind a few real bills, and the thief takes off with the good-faith money.
* "Bank examiner." A person claims to be investigating the bank or a corrupt employee and asks the senior to withdraw a large amount of cash.
The "bank examiner" then takes the cash, giving the victim a worthless receipt.