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Ask the Expert: Playing it Safe

Doug Terwilliger

Yeah, yeah, yeah, you’ve heard these safety tips before.


Question is, do you follow them?

You may have already given up the extreme sports, hitchhiking cross-country, or whatever your riskiest behaviors were.

Still, everyday life presents potentially perilous situations. The tips and reminders below are intended to help you strike the balance between living life openly and approaching it cautiously.

Home Safety

As we grow older, practicing home safety becomes increasingly important. Truth is, falls injure and kill
more people than any other accident besides car crashes. Here are several pointers for avoiding falls and other
at-home hazards:

  • Do not use chairs, tables, or books in place of a step stool or ladder; they are not stable enough to hold your weight.
  • Test and replace the batteries in your smoke alarms every six months. Remember at every daylight savings time adjustment.
  • Affix Mr. Yuk/Poison stickers to hazardous household cleaning supplies and chemicals.
  • Keep the stairwell free of items.
  • Don't hide keys under the doormat, in the mailbox, or in a planter. Leave an extra set with a neighbor.
  • Keep a telephone number list of police, fire, hospital, poison control center, and personal physician next to
    your phone.

Personal Safety

Unfortunately, you simply can’t trust everyone. Whether you’re out driving or shopping at your local mall, other people may want to take advantage of you. Here are a few specific scenarios to consider:

  • Car Trouble: If your car breaks down, pull as far as possible away from moving traffic, tie a white handkerchief around the antenna, close the windows, and stay in the vehicle with the doors locked. Always travel with a cell phone; even the disposable variety can help get you through an emergency.
  • On Vacation: Lock valuables in room safes or the hotel’s safe. Men, carry wallets in a front pocket. Ladies, zip or clasp the bag. Do not carry large amounts of cash; before leaving the hotel, ask for directions.
  • Delivery Services: When service or delivery people come to your door, ask for ID (check with their company if you're still not sure).
  • Telephone Calls: Never provide personal information (e.g., Social Security number, credit card numbers, bank account numbers, ATM PINs, etc.) to unsolicited callers. Call the national do-not-call registry at 888-382-1222 (TTY 866-290-4236) using your home phone and your cellular phones.

Online Safety

Going online offers new ways to get information and interact with friends, family, and associates, and many retirees are taking full advantage. But it’s up to you to protect yourself from spam, spyware, identity theft, and inappropriate content.

  • Protect your information by using a hard-to-guess password that is at least eight characters long and contains a mixture of letters, numbers, and symbols. 
  • Reduce spam by only giving out your email address to people you know and by never replying to spam—not even to unsubscribe. 
  • Be careful about opening attachments to emails as they are one of the main ways viruses are spread from computer to computer. 
  • Be wary of any email asking for personal information. 
  • Check to make sure a charity is legitimate before responding to an email solicitation for donations. 
  • Read any installation agreements carefully when you download from the Internet.


Federal Trade Commission, 877-382-4357 (TTY: 866-653-4261)

GetNetWise, Internet Education Foundation, 202-638-4370

National Crime Prevention Council, 202-466-6272

National Safety Council, 630-285-1121

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