During these unprecedented times, I am getting asked about potential spikes in crime and possible crime changes. These are important questions and we are actively looking into all of it. The reality is as communities panic, chaos ensues, and chaos opens the door for criminals to make victims out of the best of us. While the average citizen is focused on surviving and regrouping, criminals are utilizing weaknesses and optimizing opportunities.
With the onset of coronavirus, and the drastic changes every single household is feeling globally, we need to pause and make sure that you and yours are not just social distancing and staying healthy but also staying safe. From scams to massive layoffs to family issues and more - here are the public safety issues we are most concerned with right now:
Whenever tragedy strikes, the number of scammers robocalling for dollars or seeking to make house visits increases exponentially. We are urging citizens and especially the elderly to be extremely careful when receiving unsolicited phone calls or visits at your door. In general, we are reminding people: never open the door for strangers (even professional and apparently well-meaning individuals) and never, no matter what, share your personal information, bank account information, social security numbers or health information in response to an unsolicited request.
An example of some of the scams taking place include:
Charities asking for donations to purchase hospital supplies, medical testing, food for those in need, or funds for those who have lost their jobs due to coronavirus. The list will go on and on. Simply put, never give to a charity unknown to you. Always research any organization before you give and give only to known and established organizations. That said, the best way to give is to go onto a charity’s actual website and click the donate button or call the number on the actual site. Do not give in response to a call or share your credit card or bank information with an unsolicited telemarketing type caller.
Insurance providers claiming to offer you free health insurance, unemployment insurance or any other offer that seems too good to be true. They’ll call and ask for your home address, social security number, health information, identifying factors like height, weight, etc. They’ll ask what companies you worked for or are interested in - all of this is to start the process of identity theft, to understand your needs and shopping habits. You do not want them to show up at your home for signatures or other items that might be requested, specifically of the elderly. Of course, the intentions are not good.
Federal, state, county or local officials calling to grant funding for those who have lost a job. The caller will share that they want to send you a check but need your address as well as other information including social security number, bank account number and bank routing numbers (they may claim to need to wire funds). Beware.
Healthcare providers claiming they will come to your home to do free coronavirus testing. They may explain they are testing the entire neighborhood; they may even say it’s mandatory. All will say they need to confirm your name, address, age, and, of course, information on everyone who lives in the house. This is such critical information to share, especially for elderly people who live alone. Don’t give these criminals a chance to go to your home.
Domestic Violence and Child Abuse
One of our biggest concerns in the abuse and assault taking place inside the homes as “shelter in place” remains in effect. On average, nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner, equating to more than 10 million women and men in the United States annually. These numbers pertain to the abuse of individuals during “normal” times. Can we imagine what this looks like in times of extreme stress? We know that local domestic violence shelters are coping with coronavirus so the resources for the abused is now limited. The steps a victim will need to take to leave and protect herself are will now be extreme.
In addition to those in a domestic partnership, we are worried about children. Earlier this week, the national numbers indicated that 54 million students kindergarten to twelfth grade are now home. As these kids are home, around the clock, we worry about the onset of child abuse. According to the Administration for Children and Families, of the nearly 3,534,000 million children who were the subject of a child abuse investigation in 2018, 60.8 percent were found to be neglected, 10.7 percent were found to be physically abused, 7.0 percent were found to be sexually abused and more than 15 percent were found to be victims of two or more types of abuse. I fear what these numbers will be following this time of increased stress coupled with a shelter in place, homeschool challenges, the needs of children and more.
With these increased pressures, mental health issues and increased abuse of partners and children, I additionally fear an uptake in suicide.
Community Issues As of Thursday, a record 3.3 million Americans filed for unemployment in response to massive coronavirus layoffs - these are frightening numbers. What does it all mean? The community is concerned with things like home invasions, robberies while trying to pick up supplies and a myriad of other things. It’s important to stay calm, to remember that while this time is a crisis, it’s different than hurricanes and other disasters. Our supplies are not in jeopardy, food is not running short, and law enforcement is not strained or distracted (i.e., rescuing people from floods, for example). We are concerned with the numbers of retailers who will face break-ins with their stores empty.
While only time will tell, we are not expecting mass home invasions or robberies - but let’s continually remind those struggling that, as a community, we are also coming together to provide for the children who need to eat and families who cannot pay their mortgagees or cover their rent. Local, state and federal governments are working together to send support. Additionally, remember, with less people out and about, law enforcement will find it easier to identify suspects and make arrests.
In general, as we all work to respect the requests of our elected officials and the many medical teams helping us through this disaster, as we hear the news and gather to mourn such tremendous loss, we still encourage the community to take heart, stay focused and stay calm. We cannot panic. If we see a crime being committed, we must dial 911. If we are concerned that people are not “social distancing” or adhering to the county orders to “stay home, work safe,” we can call 311.
And, most of all, we must definitely embrace the time at home, the chance to stop and have a meal with our kids, to get to know those precious kids again, to be thankful for no rush hour traffic or exhaustion from running from one place to the next. Let’s also take this time to call, video chat and text those who are home alone and long for human contact. Let’s be thankful for our neighbors and trust that when this time passes, businesses will resume again, the economy will boom again, and the community will flourish again. Life will be lived again.
Read past Sunday Mornings with Rania posts here. Find more information on Crime Stoppers of Houston on their website or follow them on Facebook. Have topics in mind that you’d like Rania to write about? Comment below or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Rania is co-host of a weekly podcast which features interesting local and national guests who used their platforms for the good of the community. Connect with Rania on Instagram and Twitter.
People in this article: RANIA MANKARIOUS