Scammers tried to steal $9,000 from this Ontario couple. Police say seniors are becoming victims
A call to her home in Ingersoll, Ont. two weeks ago Diane Lindsay panicked.
On the other end was a man claiming to be a Woodstock RCMP officer who said her grandson was involved in an accident. When police began investigating, they found drugs in his car, the man said.
Her grandson was in prison and she would have to post $9,000 bail to get him out, he told her.
Lindsay contacted her husband Ron to arrange the money. But when Ron heard the story, he had his suspicions.
“They want money. And supposedly there was a gag order from the court so she shouldn’t tell anyone,” he said. “I said to her, ‘That sounds like a scam.'”
The story was detailed. Lindsay was told her grandson was ill and a friend drove him to the drugstore and was involved in an accident on the way. The man knew the couple’s names, knew they had a grandson, and when Diane found out her grandson’s name, he knew who to ask.
At one point the voice on the other end even pretended to let Lindsay talk to her grandson.
“It didn’t sound like him, but he said, ‘Grandma, I’m terribly sick and so I got a ride to get something,'” she said. “I’m very trusting.”
While Ron had his suspicions, he was still dubious because this call seemed different than the rest.
“It’s not the traditional grandparent program that I’ve heard so much about,” he said. “He is well spoken… [had] good terminology, the right vocabulary, and he wants cash, not bitcoins or credit cards.”
Ron had no intention of getting the money but instead drove to his daughter’s house where he found his grandson – healthy and out of jail.
“They need to have some background information before they do that,” he said.
According to the OPP, seniors are the most likely to lose money when scammed
While the Lindsays were lucky not to fall for the scam, many Ontario elderly are not so lucky.
The number of seniors who have been victims of fraud has continued to rise over the past three years, as has dollar losses, data from the Canadian Anti-Fraud Center (CAFC) shows.
According to 2022 data from CAFC, 1,177 emergency scams were reported across Ontario, accounting for a loss of $5.4 million. The vast majority of reported emergency scams, which include so-called grandparent scams, came from seniors over the age of 60, with 917 reported cases causing a total loss of nearly $4.6 million.
Across Canada, 2,488 emergency scams have been reported with losses in excess of $9.4 million, data from the CAFC shows.
In 2021, 257 emergency scams were reported across Ontario, accounting for over $660,000 in losses. Most of these reports also came from seniors.
Scammers often target people with a landline, Det.-Const said. John Armit at the Ontario Provincial Police.
“If you go to sites like Canada 411, you can get someone’s phone number, address and name. Scammers can easily turn around and go to a search engine and see that maybe there’s an obituary and maybe there’s information about their grandchildren or relatives that they use to manipulate the elderly,” Armit said.
According to Armit, only five to ten percent of victims report their scams to law enforcement or the CAFC. Because of the numerous individuals involved in grandparent scams — including the caller, the dispatcher, the courier, and the money launderer — OPP believes they are the result of organized crime.
He says seniors are 33 percent more likely to lose money in a scam compared to any other age group. And once cheated, they often become victims again.
“The scammers keep a list of who provided money and therefore come to the victims with another scam proposal and there is always a sense of urgency in these scams,” he said. “They expanded their pitch to use psychological techniques that scare people and want to react very quickly.”
These “pitches” can include identity fraud, extortion, crypto and love scams. According to Armit, those over 70 are particularly vulnerable to grandparent fraud.
But there are programs aimed at helping seniors stay one step ahead of these scams.
The CAFC’s Senior Support Unit allows seniors to reach out to other seniors, provide literature and guide them through fraud loss training as a proactive measure. They also offer support for seniors who have become victims.
Mathieu Labrèche, director of media strategy and communications at the Canadian Bankers Association, says the organization also offers a program for seniors to recognize the signs of fraud and protect themselves against it. The Your Money Seniors program includes a fraud prevention module run by volunteer bankers across the country.
“I hope the impact would be that if they find themselves in a situation where they are either under duress or being forced to do something they don’t think is right, they stop and think twice “, he said.
Organizations such as churches, condominium associations, library programs and others with 10 or more people can ask the CBA to host a seminar in their community through the organization’s website, he added.
Seniors often fear being reported out of shame
Ontario organizations like Elder Abuse Prevention Ontario are also working to educate seniors about fraud.
Laura Proctor, a local elder abuse prevention consultant, sees firsthand how grandparent cheating affects elders. She says 20 percent of the calls her company receives are directly related to fraud and fraud.
“The predominant emotion I hear from seniors who call our number is shame,” she said.
She says there’s also a reason why registration numbers are often very low.
“They are afraid to come forward to authorities because they fear losing their independence that individuals may think their competence is being questioned.”
The group is mandated by the provincial government to deliver webinars, fact sheets and information sessions at leisure centers. According to Proctor, education is key, but so is understanding when scammers strike.
“The threat of social isolation really increases the risk factor [and] the likelihood of someone becoming a victim. So scammers, any perpetrator or perpetrator, always take advantage of that isolation.”
“Often scammers hide under the guise of being an authority figure. And we, as polite Canadians, want to follow that authoritative voice,” she says. “That’s also what I hear, ‘Why didn’t I ask? It sounded way too good to be true. I should have asked more questions.’”
According to Armit, seniors need to know that police will never ask residents to collect cash to save a loved one or produce gag orders. He encourages seniors to call local police to verify information and reach out to loved ones who are posing as victims of scammers.
“The most important tool is to stop, think, make those calls, and then make a decision.”