Since its inception in October 2013, the Senior vs. Crime Wildwood office has returned a million dollars to the community, according to Ed Kelly, the location’s office manager.
“Everybody was elated to pass the million-dollar mark,” said Kelly, of the Village of Hillsborough. “It is a big accomplishment to get that kind of money back.”
The Florida Attorney General’s office launched a unique effort called Seniors vs. Crime. Its offices spread around the state investigate frauds, educate people about criminals who prey on elderly and assist seniors in reclaiming money after being duped. There are four state-wide offices in The Villages: Wildwood, Sumter County, Fruitland Park and Marion County.
It took the office eight years to achieve the million-dollar threshold, and Kelly said it feels good to contribute such a huge quantity of money back to the community.
Kelly explained that the 24 volunteers at the Wildwood office are what make this endeavor feasible. They are the issue solvers and negotiators between merchants and community members.
“(I have enjoyed) giving back to the community (members) who cannot help themselves,” said Joe Gerena, of Oxford, Seniors vs. Crime Wildwood assistant manager.
Kelly explained that the Wildwood volunteers, also known as senior sleuths, came from a variety of backgrounds. Some are former attorneys, cops, business owners, teachers and bankers.
“They all bring different skills to the table,” Kelly said.
Kelly explained that the club also does speaking engagements throughout the year in and around The Villages to highlight the current scams and how to prevent them.
According to Kelly, the office frequently advises clients that when it comes to scammers, if it seems too good to be true, it generally is, and to never give someone money up front.
“If you are getting a haircut, you are not going to give them the money upfront,” Kelly said. “You want to see what the end product is.”
According to Kelly, the group works with a lot of vendors and contractors that take advantage of community people, do not even have a license or miscommunicate with the public. According to him, the agency handles roughly 130 cases each year on average.
Seniors vs. Crime verifies a vendor’s or contractor’s licensing, and depending on the seriousness of the situation or if a crime is committed, Gerena said, they submit the person to police authorities.
The group also maintains a note of how many and what kind of complaints they have received from the community in the previous five years about a vendor. Kelly advises checking for complaints with Seniors vs. Crime before selecting a contractor.
Call 352-753-0727 or email email@example.com to reach the Wildwood Seniors vs. Crime office. The office is located in the Wildwood Police Annex, 2722 Brownwood Blvd., and is open from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday.
The other Seniors vs. Crime offices in the area are in Sumter County, which is open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Thursday at 8035 E. County Road 466, Suite C, and can be reached at 352-689-4600, ext. 4606, and firstname.lastname@example.org; Fruitland Park, which is open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesdays at 3000 Moyer Loop, inside Moyer Recreation Center and can be reached at 352-674-1882 and email@example.com; and Marion County, which is located at 8230 SE 165th Mulberry Lane and may be reached at 352-753-7775 or firstname.lastname@example.org on Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
“There are not enough advocates for the people getting ripped off,” Gerena said. “To help people and get their money back, it is rewarding.”