In the past six months, the Friends In Service Here or F.I.S.H. organization has noticed an increase in its clients being approached in person or online by solicitors asking for money. This prompted the setting up of a recent workshop to help seniors learn practical ways in which they can guard against this growing problem crimes against the elderly.
More than 30 interested islanders gathered at the Sanibel Senior Center 4 Life last week to hear Detective Joe Roubicek, who has investigated more than 1,000 exploitation of the elderly crimes over the past 25 years. He spent 20 years as a detective with the Fort Lauderdale Police Department.
Bill Fellows, president of FISH, Detective Joe Roubicek and Christine Swierz, a licensed clinical social worker for FISH
"I am honored to be on Sanibel talking about preventing crimes against the elderly," Roubicek said. "This is a prime vacation spot I came to with my children. It holds a lot great memories."
In a lively debate, Roubicek answered questions from the audience and addressed concerns Sanibel residents had, particularly relating to online banking requests for money and other forms of phishing scams.
"There are two types of crimes," explained Roubicek. "There is fraud and exploitation."
The definition of fraud, according to the law, is deception. Of all the fraud crimes, phishing is the most common with Americans of all ages using the Internet to bank, pay bills and shop. Victims of phishing scams generally receive what appears to be a legitimate email from their banking institution or reputable business, which contains a link that requires your user name and password.
"Never click on a link inside an email," said Roubicek, who was nearly a victim of a phishing scam. "It is most likely a fake web site created to steal your user name and password information."
The second type of crime against the elderly, and one Roubicek has worked to improve laws against, is exploitation. This crime differs from fraud because it involves a person 60 years or older who has been taken advantage of due to a physical or emotional dysfunction.
In 1994, Roubicek testified before the Florida House and Senate to improve laws designed to protect the elderly and he contributed to the writing of Florida Statute 825.103: Exploitation of an Elderly Person or Disabled Adult.
"It's a great law because it brings the charges up to felonies, much like grand theft," explained Roubicek, who was joined by Lt. Michael Cooper at the workshop.
Cooper, a 30-year veteran with the Sanibel Police Department, discussed SPD's approach to crimes. He gave examples of practical ways residents can guard against these potential crimes. Cooper stated the police department strongly encourages residents to call them immediately if they have concerns or suspicions about online schemes or queries about suspicious tradespeople who had approached them for work.
"There is a city ordinance that states every contractor on the island must have a permit and carry a competency card," Cooper informed the crowd. "It is a misdemeanor crime on the island to work without a license and there is a list of approved contractors available at the building inspectors office. It lists landscapers, roofers, plumbers, everyone who has complied with the city's ordinance."
Cooper said seniors are targeted for these types of crimes because they more than likely have a nest egg, own their home, carry excellent credit, grew up trusting people and are less likely to report the crime.
"You are not alone," encouraged Cooper, who noted that many seniors feel they can't report the crime because they don't know who to call or are ashamed to be a victim.
Other crimes covered in the workshop included the Nigerian scam letter, home repair fraud, door-to-door sales fraud, sweepstakes scams, healthcare and Medicare fraud, telemarketing fraud and identity theft.
"Guard your personal information," advised Roubicek. "Shred trash with any personal information, reconcile with your bank weekly and keep a list of important phone numbers handy."
Additional tips to avoid becoming a victim include:
Stop and think about any spur of the moment scheme proposed.
"Don't be rushed into an immediate payment or donation," warned Roubicek.
Always request written information. Do not do anything if you have questions. Find out if the company is licensed or registered and check them out.
Never give your credit card, checking account or social security number to an unknown caller.
"Don't give out that information over the phone, at all," said Cooper.
Do not assume a friendly voice belongs to a friend or honest person. Check all unsolicited calls and offers.
If you have been a victim of this type of crime, call the Sanibel Police Department immediately at 239-472-3111. Your information is vital in catching the con-artist and preventing others from being victimized. Most people fall victim to a con-artist at some point in their life, so there is no need to be embarrassed.