Local News

Expo aims to help reduce crimes, fraud against the elderly

SEBRING - Although the focus has gone from the body to peace of mind, the goal is still the still the same: to keep Highlands County's older residents not only healthy, but safe and secure.

After a three-year absence, the Elder Fair returned to Sebring Tuesday with a new location, focus and new mission to help seniors in the area learn how to avoid crime and scams as well as find out where to turn for legal issues.

Until 2011, the Expo was held at the Highlands County Fairgrounds and was mostly a health fair. But this year, the Expo was inside the Polston Auditorium at the Highlands County Extension Bert J. Harris Jr. Agricultural Center, 4509 George Blvd.

There, about 25 booths manned by legal experts, lawyers, law enforcement and security vendors were set up to help give guests a grasp on crime prevention and financial strategy and planning. Among the vendors were lawyers, aging agencies, security companies, driver safety schools, credit unions, emergency prevention groups and elderly abuse awareness campaign groups.

Sponsored by the Highlands County Seniors and Law Enforcement Together council (SALT) - a national initiative joining service providers, seniors and law enforcement together regarding crime and security issues as related to the elderly - a Triad was formed between SALT, the Highlands County Sheriff's Office and the Lake Place Police Department, working towards the reduction of crime and victimization of older people.

After circling the auditorium and introducing the vendors, SALT Treasurer Peggy Pierce, a retired registered nurse, said the Expo also had folks on-hand to answer questions about public assistance and counseling programs geared to older citizens. But, she said, the focus was to show how to keep from being abused, taken advantaged of financially and to avoid scams.

Pierce said between 150 and 200 attended the Expo, held from 8:30 to 11 a.m.

"I hope they (guests) will leave with a better knowledge of ways to help themselves with problems, especially when a spouse dies. I want them to learn and take away information and learn about places they can go to get help with financial matters, elderly care and public assistance," she said.

In 2010, according to The National Center for Victims of Crime, people 65 years and older made up 15 percent of the U.S. population and of those 60 and older, 1.6 percent reported that they had experienced physical mistreatment in the past year and 5 percent were currently being financially exploited by family members. A 2010 Federal Trade Commission study showed a trend in the increasing number of incidents of Internet crime reported by those individuals in the 50 to 60 and older category.

Of those who reported both crimes and their age to the Federal Trade Commission in 2010, people 60 and older made 14 percent of fraud complaints and 14 percent of identity theft complaints, the center reported.

Walking among the guests, Highlands County Sheriff's Office Public Information Officer Nell Hays said the crime prevention aspect was partly initiated to avoid redundancy. She said since the expo first began as a health fair over 15 years ago, health fairs have sprung up regularly around the county so SALT decided to try something different for the expo's return.

"The program is to help the senior citizens to not have such a fear of crime and to show them how not to become victims," she said. "We hope everyone gets something beneficial out the experience here,"

Mike and Donna Woodward of Sebring said the hour they spent at the expo was informative. Mike, 75, a retired individual sales representative originally from Milwaukee, Wis., said he found out about the expo at a SALT meeting. He and his wife were especially interested in the information about identity theft.

"We're happy we came. We found out a lot about what we personally can do to protect ourselves and what we own," said Mike, 75. "There's so much going on with identity theft and fraud, it's scary,"

The Highlands County Triad/SALT Council meets at 10 a.m., the third Tuesday of the month. For information, call (863) 402-7369.


(863) 386-5855