Most people who have email have probably received a message from a “Nigerian prince” in need of money. Most people disregard this email as spam — probably the most famous scam on the internet.
But fraud and scams are getting much more complicated and getting better at targeting the elderly.
The Senior Police Academy offered by the Waterloo Police Department is doing its best to educate seniors on scams and other emergency situations they are likely to encounter.
“The importance of the Senior Police Academy is that we have a variety of topics that are important to the general public for us to enforce certain regulations,” said WPD officer Scott Spencer, who leads the weekly class. “I think it’s very important for seniors to know what types of frauds and scams are out there. We usually have frauds and scams discussed every year because there are always new scams out there.”
The program has been in place for around 16 years. Spencer has taught the class the past nine years.
“This is one of the good parts of law enforcement. In law enforcement, there are a lot of negatives with the type of people we deal with day in and day out,” Spencer said. “But being able to reach out to members of the community and let them know that we’re there for them as well as give them this information so that they can better themselves and be more knowledge and street smart about what is going on.”
Other than scams, which was talked about in the first session, the group of senior citizens learn about many other things they may encounter, such as CPR and drug abuse awareness.
“In years past, we find that a good percentage of the people who show up are regulars,” Spencer said. “We probably have about 5-10 percent that are new every year. We have had agencies as far as CIA, Secret Service, Homeland Security and Lambert International Airport come down to talk about travel safety.
“Fire safety, the Department of Child and Family Services is coming this year. The Court Appointed Special Advocates are coming this year and the Social Security Administration is coming this year, just to give them a lot of information for the seniors.”
The program is in place to create a bond between the police department and community, as well as inform senior citizens with knowledge they need.
“I know some police departments have programs in place for seniors that will basically let them be citizen police officers,” Spencer said. “Well, that’s not our case; ours is more about knowledge aspect and being in the preventive mind set. Let’s get these seniors trained and knowledgeable in what is suspicious and what isn’t suspicious when it comes to frauds and scams. What are the red flags when something doesn’t feel right. Know how to trust your gut feeling.”
In the first class on Sept. 9, there were 35 people signed in. Spencer noted that around 50 people enrolled for the class. It isn’t mandatory to attend every class. Spencer said he realizes some seniors will choose topics they’re more interested in learning about.
“I think it’s important that the law enforcement agency basically creates a bond with the community it serves,” Spencer said. “We have a DARE program for the kids and obviously we have the senior citizen program. It basically creates a bond between members of the community and the department itself.”
It also keeps senior citizens from handing their money over to “Nigerian princes.” The program is offered every Wednesday until Oct. 21, from 1 p.m. to 3:15 p.m. It is free of charge and located on the second floor of Waterloo City Hall.