Children are not the only ones who should be wary of strangers; seniors also should be wary of people offering something for nothing, a state official told a group of Gainesville residents Wednesday.
Several dozen people gathered at the Tower Road Library Branch for a Seniors vs. Crime presentation to learn about what they could do if they had been scammed or been subject to fraud –or even better, ways to avoid being a victim. The Seniors vs. Crime program is a special project of the Florida Attorney General.
Judy Harden, deputy regional director for the organization’s 15-county area in North Central Florida, gave the audience tips on what to do, and what not to do.
“Our mission is not to come in here and to scare you and not want you to talk to people and go out into the community,” Harden said. “Our purpose is to educate you and empower you to make those informed decisions.”
Harden told the audience of mostly seniors that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. She also advised against talking to strangers, especially those who seem to be targeting you and offering something for nothing.
“Why are seniors the number one target?” she asked. “[Scammers] think we have money, and they think [older] people may be lonely.
If someone calls you to try and sell you a high-ticket item you didn’t request, hang up, Harden said. She also told those present if they had been a victim of fraud to report it, and not to be embarrassed or ashamed.
Seniors vs. Crime started as a crime prevention program that involved older citizens educating others of their generation. It has since evolved into a statewide program of the Attorney General that provides direct services to aging residents of Florida who may have been victimized by scams or shady businesses.
The program emphasizes letting the authorities know when something has happened so steps can be taken to try and recuperate losses.
Both those who volunteer and those who seek help need to be at least 50 years old.
“If it’s not reported, you can’t track it,” Harden said.
Harden has been involved in Seniors v. Crime about 12 years, after retiring from a military career. She started as a volunteer then moved into a paid position. Her husband, who was in law enforcement, also works with the program.
Her enthusiasm for what she does is evident as the one-hour talk that ended a half hour late. And she told stories that were all too familiar to some in the room, like paying for services upfront that were never delivered to take advantage of “a discount.”
She also talked about a relatively new grandparent scam, when the phone rings at an inopportune time, to advise grandparents that their grandchild is being held in prison, most of the time in another country.
The scammer will tell the grandparents: “This is what I need. I need you to run down to the store and get gift cards.” Gift cards are being requested by scammers because they can’t always be traced, Harden said.
“The best thing you can do is pick up the phone and call your daughter or son and ask about Johnny,” Harden said. “And learn that Johnny is sitting right there at the dinner table. But [those kinds of scams] really happen. “
The Seniors vs. Crime the program is active here with an office in the Alachua County Sheriff’s office. In addition to Alachua, Region IV also covers Baker, Bradford, Citrus, Columbia, Dixie, Gilchrist, Hampton, Lafayette, Lake, Levy, Marion, Sumter, Suwannee and Union counties.
People can find out more about the program by calling 1-800-203-3099 or visiting the program website: seniorsvscrime.com