Scams targeting seniors are growing in Canada, police warn

Jordana Divon
Contributing Writer
Daily Brew

It's one of the ugliest forms of fraud and it's on the rise in Canada.

Financial scams targeting the elderly appear to be picking up steam, according to Toronto police. As the Globe and Mail reports, a group of officers spoke at the Bernard Betel Centre in Toronto as part of the kickoff for National Fraud Prevention Month.

Criminals, banking on an aging population of Baby Boomers with cash to spare, gather data on potential victims online, exploiting the fact that the older generations aren't as tech savvy as their children.

"It's relatively easy to direct scams over large geographical areas. You go after the biggest pool and the most vulnerable," Constable Wayne Pierce of Toronto's 32 Division told the crowd.

In fact, statistics from the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre show that con artists target 60-to-69-year olds the most. Some of the scams in circulation are already well known. There's the lottery ruse where "winners" can claim their prizes for a fee; calls from people impersonating police or Microsoft employees to extract personal information; and perhaps most reprehensible, fraudsters who pretend a loved one has gotten into trouble and needs money wired immediately.

Eighty-five-year-old Peg Murphy fell victim to the latter after receiving a call from someone posing as her grandson, Thomas, last July. The article relates that "Thomas" phoned from a Montreal jail cell and said he'd been drinking and crashed a rental car.

While they spoke, a second person joined the conversation — a man who identified himself as a police officer, name and badge number included — said if Murphy would cover the $4,800-worth of damage to the car, Thomas would be released. The "officer" provided Murphy with the address of a nearby Western Union office and instructed her how to send the money.

In a panic, she raced over and immediately sent the funds. Afterward, Murphy called Thomas on his cell phone. He said he'd been at home the whole time and didn't know what she was talking about. Murphy's daughter-in-law figured out what had happened and canceled the transaction before it went through.

"I was very lucky, but I think a lot of grandparents have not been as lucky," she told the audience. "You feel very stupid when you get caught by something like this."

Murphy was being hard on herself. Sophisticated data gathering tactics have made it harder than ever to spot the ruse. As the paper notes, the con artist who called her mentioned that Thomas had been in Montreal for "Jason's wedding," a detail that seemed true as her grandson does, in fact, have a friend by that name.

For self-protection, police warned the seniors against providing personal information to anyone they don't know and being suspicious of anything that sounds too good to be true.

As 80 per cent of all mass-market scams are now committed on the Internet, Staff Inspector Bryce Evans also suggested caution when corresponding online.

"We speak with our counterparts and all frauds, right across the world, have increased significantly. That's why we're doing more partnerships and more team investigations. We're seeing more organized-crime groups [involved]," he said.

And if you have relatives who you fear may be vulnerable to fraud, remind them that it's not just strangers who pose a threat. Police say caregivers have also been known to steal from their elderly charges.