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Orlando Sentinel

Hispanic Seniors Put Criminals On Notice

Retirees learn how to avoid being victims

By Doris Bloodsworth

March 21, 2002
Copyright © 2002
Orlando Sentinel. All Rights Reserved.

Sara Alicea didn't realize that as a senior member of the Hispanic community, she was a likely target for fraud. No one had ever talked to her about how to lower that risk or how to ensure her safety while shopping at the mall or grocery store.

But as one of the first 25 graduates of the Orange County Sheriff's Hispanic Senior Citizen Crime Prevention Academy, she has a newfound sense of security.

"We learned what to do to prevent fraud and to prevent rape," said Alicea, a former nutrition director who retired to Orlando from Puerto Rico three years ago. "That was information that I didn't know."

Sheriff's Capt. Miguel Pagan said the six-week course, which had its first graduation recently, is similar to other crime-prevention classes but has been customized for older Hispanic residents who can find themselves easy prey for con artists.

"Especially in our Hispanic community, our senior citizens were raised to be very hospitable," Pagan said. "We tell them sometimes they have to be more suspicious."

For example, Orlando law-enforcement agencies have been unable to stop a lottery scheme targeting elderly Hispanic residents in which a man and woman offer to exchange a worthless Lotto ticket for money. Some people have lost as much as $20,000.

Besides fraud prevention, other topics covered include personal protection, identity theft and drug abuse. All instruction is in Spanish, a key to the program's success, say elderly affairs experts.

"The people taking the class will be more outspoken because they are with their peers," said Henry Rodriguez, project coordinator for the National Association for Hispanic Elderly in Pasadena, Calif. "If they were among Anglos, they would be less likely to ask questions."

There seemed to be no shortage of questions during the three-hour classes conducted weekly at the Comunidad Siervos de Cristo Vivo in the Azalea Park Shopping Center on Semoran Boulevard.

Why do the deputies only use male dogs for K-9 partners? How do the media find out about crimes? The answers: Female dogs become too aggressive, said K-9 Deputy Robert Ramos. Public-information officers are available by pager, said Cmdr. Angelo Nieves, a spokesman for Sheriff Kevin Beary.

The free class drew residents from Seminole and Osceola as well as Orange County. Some came out of curiosity; at least one was a former member of law enforcement.

Joaquin Claudio, a retired San Juan police officer, said he was so impressed with the class that he has promoted it on the La Fantastica radio show he hosts on 1440 AM (WPRD). Asked if he had learned a lot, he said, "Mucho! I'm interested in learning how criminals are different from 20 years ago."

If criminals are different, some might make the same observation about this group of graduates of the Crime Prevention Academy. As Jean Moe, one of the speakers, said: "Seniors are not going to sit back and be victims anymore."

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