Seniors vs. Crime is a program formed nearly 30 years ago by the Florida Legislature as a special project of the Florida Attorney General. Today the local, store-front facilities are staffed by knowledgeable volunteers who can assist seniors who have been victims of crime and help others not to fall prey to criminal activity targeting them.
Beginning as solely a crime-prevention endeavor, the statewide program is more involved than just seniors educating other seniors. It provides direct services to seniors who may have been victimized or otherwise taken advantage of by a business, referring the incidents to appropriate parties, legal aid or law enforcement authorities.
The nearby facility located at 2102 West Drive in West Palm Beach near the entrance to Century Village has successfully assisted thousands of seniors.
With a goal of reducing the victimization of senior citizens in crimes both large and small, the nonprofit organization’s policy is that education is key to protecting seniors and others from crime.
Regional Director Wayne Picone of the Seniors vs. Crime Project believes strongly that such education can protect the targeted group.
“We believe that education is a protection,” he said, and that is why the organization reached out to Earl Stewart and his wife Nancy, who are known for advocating for consumers in the retail automobile industry.
“Our new attorney general, Ashley Moody, has expressed a great interest in Seniors vs. Crime,” Picone said at an event that was held Thursday, April 25 in West Palm Beach featuring the Stewarts.
“Back in the day, purchasing a car was based on a handshake and trust,” said Stewart as the couple presented rules for seniors to avoid being ripped off by car dealers.
“In a 2018 honesty and ethics survey by Gallup, car dealers came in dead last… with congressional lobbyists coming in second to last,” Stewart said. “Car dealers thrive on people not understanding.”
Highlighting some examples of outright criminal behavior, Stewart spoke of unscrupulous and near-criminal activity to be wary of when purchasing a car, selling a car or maintaining a car.
Nancy Stewart said one of her favorite sayings is “knowledge is power,” and she explained some of the challenges that women specifically have buying, selling and maintaining their cars.
“This is the 21st century,” she said. “Not everyone has gotten the memo in the automobile industry. To be at the very bottom of the [Gallup] list is humiliating. What do you tell your grandchildren about what you do for a living?”
Earl Stewart said that seniors need to advocate for themselves and each other.
“The new administration in Florida is expected to help seniors… but what better friend than another senior to help out,” he said. “We need to stick together and watch out for each other.”
Stewart warned seniors not to trust people just because they “look honest.”
“I’d like to think you can look at someone and tell if they are honest, but you can’t,” he said. “The most successful con men are the ones who look the most honest.”
He warned potential buyers not to rely on trust.
“Do not trust car sales people to give you a fair price, or if you prefer to put it positively, trust but verify,” Stewart said.
Stewart recommended that people ignore all car dealership advertising.
“There are always some honest ads that slip through… but research on the internet is the best way of determining the real manufacturer’s suggested retail price, or MSRP,” he said. “Car dealers can’t advertise a real price like Walmart or Target because you would just compare prices and go to the lowest-priced dealer.”
He encouraged potential car buyers to always shop with a friend or two to help with the emotional aspects of purchasing a car, and to help remember what the salesman said exactly. “In negotiations, I like to always have one more person on my side than the other side has,” he remarked.
Stewart said to verify that the price you are getting is an “out-the-door price,” plus only government fees. He encouraged buyers to beware of disguised charges, dealer fees and additional dealer profit.
“A good rule of thumb is to buy rather than lease, and check with your bank and or credit union for interest rates, down payment and length of finance before you consider financing with the dealer,” he added.
Stewart advised that if you have a trade-in, it is best to get three bids on the vehicle from competing dealers, and he warned to never, ever sign on the dotted line or take the car home until everything is finalized.
All of Stewart’s recommendations and more are available in a book he authored, Confessions of a Recovering Car Dealer, available on Amazon. Copies of book were given away at the event.
For more information on Citizens vs. Crime, call (800) 203-3099 or the West Palm location directly at (561) 721-7424. Visit www.seniorsvscrime.com to learn more.