CRESTVIEW — Seniors vs. Crime has a message for shady contractors, crooked auto maintenance shops and anyone else who thinks they can defraud a senior citizen:
They're onto you.
However, there's not much the office can do about Internet scams such as Nigerian princes with fortunes to share, Microsoft Lottery winners and phony bank notifications, J.B. Whitten said.
"We just got one on our Seniors vs. Crime email (account) from Regions Bank telling us to confirm our account details," he said. "We don't even bank with Regions Bank."
Whitten, a retired schoolteacher and former Air Force officer, manages Seniors vs. Crime's small Crestview office, which also serves neighboring counties.
The service is a special project of the Florida attorney general. Whitten and his staff of volunteers also work closely with local law enforcement agencies.
Scams vs. fraud
Whitten’s office is effective in dealing with seniors defrauded by shoddy or incomplete home or car repairs, and overpriced or misrepresented services such as home security or cable TV contracts.
"In local situations we can talk to the person and usually negotiate a settlement," he said. "You can't do that with the Jamaican lottery, but a roof job that's not done right — we can work with that contractor."
The "Jamaican lottery" is a prevalent scam targeting seniors who are told they've won the island nation's lottery but must send in a "processing fee" or pay "taxes" to collect their winnings.
Because such scams are "hit and run" crimes, often perpetrated from outside of the United States, there's not much Whitten’s office can do to recover stolen money, Whitten said.
Another prevalent scam is the "grandma scam," in which the scammer poses as the victim's grandchild seeking bail money, Whitten said.
Some frequent telephone scams include "winning" a cruise or a Wal-Mart gift card for a "processing fee,” Seniors vs. Crime volunteer Linda Fagan said.
"The only way you can win a prize is if you enter a contest," she said.
Anytime a caller asks for personal information, including bank account, debit card or credit card numbers, or Social Security numbers, "you have to be strong and say 'no' and hang up,” Whitten said.
Want to go?
Seniors vs. Crime, a project of the Florida Attorney General's office, offers free fraud assistance for senior citizens.
Additionally, manager J.B. Whitten and program volunteers are available to speak to local clubs and organizations about combating fraud and scams.
The office is open 10 a.m. to noon Tuesdays and Thursdays at 296 S. Ferdon Blvd. Call 306-3176 or 306-3177 or email email@example.com.
Contact News Bulletin Staff Writer Brian Hughes at 850-682-6524 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @cnbBrian.