OKEECHOBEE — Do you love a good mystery? Hate injustice? Are puzzles your thing? Are you bored now that you are retired? Have you ever dreamed of being a super hero?
Seniors vs Crime is seeking volunteers in the Okeechobee area. Martin Jacobson, deputy director of Seniors vs. Crime, said they are actively recruiting people who wish to help with fact finding and helping senior citizens who have been victimized in our area.
Seniors vs. Crime was created as a result of a task force formed by the Florida Legislature in 1989 to report on crimes against the elderly. According to the Seniors vs. Crime website, the 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 holding many meetings around the state in which seniors were invited to speak and give their opinions, the task force was formed.
According to their brochure, what originally began as a crime prevention program in which seniors educated other seniors, has now evolved into a statewide program providing services to seniors who have been victimized or taken advantage of.
The task force utilizes volunteers, known as senior sleuths, who investigate all reports and attempt to resolve complaints received from seniors in their communities. They also assist the attorney general’s Consumer Protection Division and local law enforcement when requested. Another task they assume is to educate the public on common scams which target seniors. These Senior Sleuths have been credited with recovering millions of dollars for seniors victimized by scams. Since its inception in 1989, Seniors vs Crime has recovered $35-36 million, and every penny goes back to the seniors, said Jacobson.
The Senior vs. Crime website explains the Senior vs. Crime Project is a nonprofit organization and its primary goal is to “reduce victimization of senior citizens who are often targeted for specific crimes or scams based on their age.”
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 to being the eyes and ears of the Attorney General’s Office. 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:
• They should be age 50 or older; however, younger volunteers may be accepted.
• They must have a genuine desire to help others.
• They must have no criminal history.
• They MUST agree to hold the personal information of clients and fellow Sleuths information strictly confidential.
According to Jacobson there are scams and fraud in almost every industry, and sometimes they have to refer cases out to other agencies, but often they do the investigating themselves. He said they are funded completely through grants. Sometimes their volunteers are even loaned out to local law enforcement agencies to be used as undercover agents.
The following are examples of resolved cases on the Seniors vs. Crime website:
In 2014, an Okeechobee senior requested assistance when a bank contacted her and stated she had withdrawn more cash from her account than was available. They requested the funds be replaced. The problem was that she never had an account with that bank. The Okeechobee volunteers gathered all the information and contacted the bank. Evidently the person opening the account and withdrawing the monies had used the complainants’ information to perpetrate the fraud. The bank released the complainant from any responsibility.
In 2015, a 90-year-old Okeechobee woman contacted Seniors vs. Crime. She requested help in having a mattress and bed frame returned. When shopping, the sales person insisted that the mattress and bed frame was what she needed and the size difference did not matter. The salesperson kept her there for an hour and beleaguered her with an array of confusing information. She agreed to the purchase and had the products delivered. The bed was too big for the room and was unusable. When the store indicated reluctance in taking the items back, SvC was called. The result of SvC intervention was the mattress and bed frame returned and all her money was refunded.
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.
Sgt. Jack Nash (863-763-3117) of the Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Office is their liaison in Okeechobee. If you would like to volunteer, contact Nash or go on the Seniors vs Crime website to fill out an application. www.seniorsvscrime.com. Hours are flexible. There are no minimum mandatory hours said Jacobson.