OKEECHOBEE — Just about every week, a scam of some type is reported to the Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Office. The scams run the gamut from phony Internal Revenue Service (IRS) workers claiming the victim owes money to the IRS, and if they do not pay immediately, some terrible penalty will occur to phony social security calls saying the victim’s social security number has been compromised in some way and asking the victim to give out their number in order to verify it.
Seniors are often targeted by scammers and con artists for several reasons: many times, they have money saved; they are more inclined to believe someone who appears to be in a position of authority and they are often alone and vulnerable.
According to the Seniors vs. Crime website, in 1989, a task force was created to report on crime and the elderly and found “seniors were being targeted for scams, were being subjected to high-pressure tactics by salespersons, and were being deceived by false advertising at an alarming frequency.” After the task force conducted a study with the help of a group of seniors, Vern Thornton, who served on the task force as a consultant with the AARP Criminal Justice Services, presented the attorney general’s office with the Seniors vs. Crime Project (SVC). This program would be run by volunteers and would focus on Florida’s ever-growing senior population, he said.
Initially, the project had two goals — “to provide crime prevention seminars to Florida’s elderly and to provide comprehensive training for law enforcement officers and other criminal justice practitioners in understanding how the aging population impacts upon the role of police and other criminal justice professionals.”
As time went on, volunteers took on more active roles becoming the eyes and ears of the attorney general’s office. These volunteers are called Senior Sleuths, and they report on scams and conduct surveys when called upon. There are over 2,000 Senior Sleuths now, and they perform such tasks as counting the number of pills in a prescription bottle or checking scanner prices at the grocery store.
Senior Sleuths are volunteers who come from many different backgrounds. Some may have been former police officers, while others may have been homemakers. Some may be athletes and some may be bedridden. There are different types of volunteers ranging from office staff to public speakers. There is no minimum number of hours a volunteer can work. Any volunteer is appreciated. Senior Sleuths also get to meet other seniors who have the same goals and mind set. They want to help others and enjoy seeing justice served.
Seniors who volunteer with the SVC Project must meet basic requirements:
The following are examples of resolved cases on the Seniors vs. Crime website:
Contractor Too Busy
Return of Items Ordered Through the Mail
A couple requested help from the volunteers in a case where attempts to return items they had purchased were requiring unreasonable fees. The volunteers reviewed the return policy and found a discrepancy. When the manufacturer was contacted, they reviewed the issue and alerted the couple this was a misunderstanding and explained the return procedures and actual cost. All parties were in agreement, and this case was resolved to satisfaction.
The phone number for the Okeechobee office is 863-763-7924, and the toll-free number for the state of Florida is 800-203-3099. The service provided is completely free. The victim must be the one who makes the request. A third party cannot make the request on the victim’s behalf, but the victim can be assisted in filling out the form by a family member, friend or attorney, however the victim must sign the request for help himself.