OPP, RCMP issue scam alerts after recent attacks on seniors: 'Emotional manipulation'

The RCMP is asking if your senior relatives are equipped with the knowledge to protect themselves and their money.

Senior Woman Giving Credit Card Details On The Phone to a Scammer
Fraudsters continue to find new ways to manipulate people into losing their money through scams. (Credit: Getty Images)

If you’ve received an emergency call from someone you assume to be a loved one, think twice before you act, because it could be a “grandparent scam.”

The Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) and Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) are warning the public against a recent rise in what they’re calling “grandparent scams.” They're otherwise known as fake emergency scenarios geared towards seniors, and used to prey on your fear of a loved one being in trouble.

“They claim that their grandchild or a loved one was in an accident, charged with an offence such as a DUI and drug offences or, in some cases, is ill with COVID-19,” said Jeff Horncastle, spokesperson for the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC) to Yahoo Canada.

Messages are often received through email, text and even outgoing calls, where scammers will claim they need money immediately to help.

"Fraudsters use many known tactics such as emotional manipulation to convince you to give them your money," said an RCMP statement on grandparent scams.

The warnings come after a deeper look at the data, which shows that emergency scams have been on a rapid increase since 2021, with over 1,065 reports, 428 victims and almost $5 million lost in just 2023 alone, according to the CAFC.

Fraudsters will often gain your trust by claiming they are law enforcement officials or lawyers. In some cases, they will even impersonate the supposed victim, such as the grandchild or other loved ones as an emotional manipulation tactic.

“They’ll proceed to advise the victim that a payment for bail or fine is required immediately in order for the family member to avoid going to jail,” said Horncastle.

Fraudsters will also claim that there is a “gag order” in effect — a court order which would rule that a case may not be discussed in public — which is why the victim cannot discuss the occurrence with anyone.

The CAFC says that this often leads to victims agreeing to pay the requested amount, in order to protect their loved ones. The funds are often arranged to be picked up in person, or the victim is asked to send it by mail.

Recent grandparent scam scenarios as cases trend upward

Just a few days ago, a LaSalle, Ont., resident nearly fell victim to the grandparent scam when scammers called to pretend they were her grandson and even showed up to her house to collect the money. Luckily, she was able to protect herself, but the commonality of it all is causing concern. Numbers shared by CAFC with Yahoo Canada show a steady increase in emergency scam cases in the last three years.

In some cases, fraudsters have relied upon sophisticated tools such as artificial intelligence (AI) to scam their victims. For example, just recently, a Newfoundland woman was scammed out of almost $60K when she received a phone call of what sounded just like her grandson asking for help. Turns out, vocal cloning software was used to mimic his voice.

Despite this example, the CAFC notes that based on the reports they have received to date, there is nothing directly connecting that AI or replication of voices was used for emergency scams.

However, that doesn’t distract from the overall trend. In 2021, there were 1,106 reports of scammers claiming to have an emergency — such as jail, accident, and hospital emergencies. These reports led to a total of 344 victims and almost $2.5 million in losses.

The numbers continued to climb, doubling in reports and almost tripling in victim numbers. By 2022, emergency scams rose to 2,516 reports, 1,119 victims and a total of $9.4 million in losses. And by March of 2023, we have already hit half of 2022’s reports and dollars lost, a stark statistic.

Government officials are reminding the public to stay safe and understand how to protect themselves against such scams. They are encouraging the public to report any cases to the CAFC.

“Anyone who suspects they have been the victim of cybercrime or fraud should report it to their local police and to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre’s online reporting system or by phone at 1-888-495-8501.”

How to stop, report scams in Canada

To protect yourself against emergency scams, it is important to first learn how to spot one. The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre shares two types of emergency scams that are often used by scammers: broken phone scams and grandparent scams.

The first, broken phone scams, involve a fraudulent emergency text or social media message, often impersonating a loved one, claiming that their cell phone is broken or has been dropped in water.

Grandparent scams, on the other hand, typically involve a caller claiming to be a senior’s grandchild or calling on behalf of their grandchild. They often say they need money as soon as possible, whether it is for bail, lawyer fees, hospital fees, ambulance fees or any other emergency situation that could occur. As per the CAFC, it’s important to note that these types of scams can target anyone “not just seniors or grandparents.”

Both scams often result in dangerous encounters and loss of money. The CAFC has shared an important guide with the public on how to protect yourself against emergency scams, if it happens to you.

  • If you receive a suspicious phone call claiming to be from a family member in an emergency situation, hang up the phone and contact them directly on the number you have in your contact list.

  • If the caller claims to be a law enforcement official and asks you to pay a fine or bail, hang up and call your police directly.

  • Be careful what you post online. Scammers can use details shared on social media platforms and dating sites for targeting purposes. Suspects can easily gather names and details about your loved ones.

  • Be suspicious of telephone calls that require you to immediately take action and request bail money for a family member in distress.

  • Be careful with caller ID numbers that look familiar. Scammers use technology to disguise the actual number they are calling from (spoof) and make it appear as a trusted phone number.

  • If you receive an email or text message claiming to be from a friend or loved one asking for money, make the outgoing call to the person by looking up the legitimate phone number you have for them in your contact list.

  • Use unique and strong passwords for all social media and email accounts.

If you have an elderly family member or loved one, make sure you speak to them about what to do when they receive a call, email or text regarding a family emergency. Remember to listen to your inner voice that is screaming at you “this doesn’t sound right”.

Report any fraud, even if it resulted in no money lost, to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.