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Program helps senior residents avoid schemes

By Staff | Jun 11, 2009

Every day hundreds of Southwest Florida seniors fall victim to financial fraud. Criminals often mislead seniors into making risky investments, including annuities and reverse mortgages.
With the economy still reeling, fraud cases involving seniors have increased exponentially.
While retirement investments are losing money, seniors are looking to recoup lost funds by taking these risks, unfortunately opening themselves up to being taken advantage of.
“We have seen a 279 percent increase on our senior fraud hotline from January to March of this year compared to last year,” said Stacey Payne, community relations manager for the Lee County Sheriff’s Office. “A lot of it has to do with the economy. There are a lot more people working as con artists.”
The problem has become so rampant statewide that Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink has developed a task force to help seniors better protect themselves. Dubbed “Safeguard Our Seniors,” the program is making the rounds across Florida in hopes of reaching out to the senior population.
The program arrives Monday at the Lake Kennedy Senior Center.
Terry Cerullo, community outreach coordinator for the program, said a recent stop in Port Charlotte found lots of Charlotte County seniors unaware of the potential for fraud.
“The feedback we got in Port Charlotte was that people said they had no idea of what was happening,” he said. “They had no idea their financial situation could be jeopardized.”
The program will include speakers from the following agencies and departments: Lee County Sheriff’s Office, Florida Department of Financial Services, Area Agency on Aging for Southwest Florida, Florida Department of Elder Affairs, SHINE and Cape Coral Police Department.
Attendees will be able to meet, greet and ask questions of the various speakers.
“People will have the opportunity to get good, solid information,” Cerullo said. “They’re going to learn current frauds and scams they need to be aware of.”
Aside from insurance and mortgage scams, Payne said seniors are now being challenged by schemes involving stimulus packages. Criminals send out forms asking seniors to fill them out so they can receive stimulus checks. The forms ask for vital information such as bank account and Social Security numbers.
With the senior population high in Florida, the state is ripe for these types of crimes.
“A lot of seniors come down here, lose a spouse and don’t have family members to bounce ideas off of,” Payne said. “Con artists tend to use a lot of the right buzz words.”
Monday’s event will run from 10 a.m.-noon and is free and open to the public.
More information on Safeguard Our Seniors can be found at: www.flseniors.net.
The Lee County Sheriff’s Office fraud hotline is 477-1242.