Judy Denson replied to a newspaper ad in Naples this summer, hoping to have her air conditioning unit serviced.

When the technicians arrived, they told Denson she had a serious mold problem.

“They had me scared to death, because I suffer allergies,” she said. “They were telling me I shouldn’t even spend the next night in my condo.”

So they performed a 10-minute procedure that was supposed to rid her AC of mold, but instead blew her circuit breaker and damaged the unit, as well as her water heater, she said.

After calling the Florida Attorney General’s office, she was referred to the newly opened Seniors vs. Crime office at the Cape Coral Police Department, which Wednesday held its grand opening ceremony.

After months of fighting, Denson said, the company finally admitted it had messed up but still refused to refund her $2,700. Her credit card company, however, reversed the charge.

Officer Jerry Moll, who spearheaded the effort to open the fraud prevention office, said the program has already achieved results in three cases and put more than $4,500 back in the pockets of local seniors since it was established in late July.

The office, staffed by about 20 trained volunteers, is the 45th office in the state that falls under the umbrella of the attorney general’s Seniors vs. Crime project, started in 1989 and funded through settlements obtained in consumer fraud cases.

In addition to Denson’s case, the Cape office has helped return a $500 rent deposit when a property turned out to be different than it was portrayed, as well as more than $1,000 when volunteers discovered a local company had knowingly applied a floor underlayment in a garage that was not meant for that purpose, Moll said.

Several more cases have been forwarded to detectives for potential criminal charges, he said.

“It’s very frustrating, as a police officer, to get a call, talk to a senior citizen, and find out that they’re out thousands of dollars, but it doesn’t reach the level of a criminal case and we walk away saying, ‘There’s not much we can do,’” he said. “Well, now we can.”

Cape Police Chief Jay Murphy said Lee County is a target-rich environment and noted he has seen many scams himself that bordered on the criminal.

“The 90-year-old widow who paid $25,000 for an air conditioning system that’s worth $2,500, that’s what this program is for,” Murphy said. “This brings some pressure to bear on those people with less scruples.”

Written by
Thomas Stewart 10/3/12