Volunteers work to protect area seniors
The most important advice that Jeannine Quilliams provides to her fellow seniors is do research before signing a business agreement or major purchase.
Quilliams serves as manager of the Crestview Seniors vs Crime office; this statewide group, staffed primarily by volunteer seniors, helps fellow seniors who may have found themselves victims of financial scams.
“We try to get out of the situation that they’re in,” Quilliams said. “We’re just volunteering our time to help the community.”
Seniors vs Crime offers legal assistance to seniors who feel they have been a victim of dishonest contractors or sales representatives, experiencing money exchanged for poor services or products.
Seniors vs Crime doesn’t offer legal advice or services, but its volunteers help victims gather information that can be presented to the state attorney general for further action.
Formed in 1989 by then-Attorney General Vern Thornton and the American Association of Retired Persons, it continues in Florida under Attorney General Ashley Moody.
The group of volunteers aren’t crime fighters in the sense that they don’t patrol neighborhoods, they don’t carry weapons. Their purpose is to help seniors get started toward legal action against financial predators.
Volunteers, known as Senior Sleuths, help fellow seniors with research, phone calls and paperwork. Working alongside Quilliams is sleuth Bob Raffety.
“We don’t deal with spammers,” Raffety said, referring to people or organized groups that use email methods of conning seniors out of life savings. “It’s almost impossible to chase those people down.
“We usually deal after the fact with someone who felt cheated,” he added.
The first step is for the possible victim to contact Seniors vs Crime, when the sleuth can begin making phone calls and inquiries about the contractor or company involved. The volunteers gather information, and in some instances, resolution come after speaking with a company owner or senior manager, Raffety said.
“We try to work out issues before it goes to court,” he said.
If it can’t be resolved outside of a courtroom, the Seniors vs Crime team gets the paperwork to the attorney general office, which takes over from there.
Quilliams said that each case takes time, not always with results.
“We do the footwork for the lawyers and see if they have a case," she said “Sometimes we work the case, and it’s just not workable.”
That takes her back to her advice on research.
“People need to check the companies out before having them do work,” she said. “They need to find out if they are licensed. Are they bonded?
“Just because they say they are licensed doesn’t mean they are,” Quilliams added.
Her other advice is to never give out Social Security numbers or personal information. Her third recommendation is not allowing door-to-door sales people into the home.
With the beginning of hurricane season, the potential of unlicensed contractors increases.
To track down or learn about a company, the internet provides options: Business license confirmation can be found on line at www.myfloridalicense.com; in Okaloosa and Walton counties, another option is contacting the Building Industry Association of Okaloosa and Walton Counties, whose members must all be licensed: 850-863-5107, www.biaow.org.
The Okaloosa Sheriff website lists recent scams, found on line at www.sheriff-okaloosa.org or at www.consumer.ftc.gov/features/scam-alerts.
The Crestview Seniors vs Crime office serves Okaloosa, Walton, Bay, Jackson and Holmes counties, but the area office has also helped a senior located in Santa Rosa County.
Information to volunteer as a Senior Sleuth can be found at the Seniors vs Crime website, www.seniorsvscrime.com. Information about assistance in resolving a possible scam can also be found at the Seniors vs Crime website or by calling the Crestview office, 850-306-3176; visit Facebook at www.facebook.com/seniorsveruscrimecrestviewflorida.