Why didn't his bank do more to help 88-year-old grandfather scammed out of $28.5K, family asks

Philip Ali, 88, lost almost $30K after he answered a call from scammers claiming to be Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers. He believed he was helping his grandson, who was recently married and training to be a paramedic, get out of drug and weapons charges. (Submitted by Karen Bull - image credit)
Philip Ali, 88, lost almost $30K after he answered a call from scammers claiming to be Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers. He believed he was helping his grandson, who was recently married and training to be a paramedic, get out of drug and weapons charges. (Submitted by Karen Bull - image credit)

Philip Ali, 88, got the call every grandparent fears.

His grandson had been arrested on drug charges and was in serious trouble with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP).

"He just got married. He's training to be a paramedic and he just passed his exam," Ali said.

With a criminal record, Ali said, "his chances of getting this job just became nil."

"This guy who is supposed to be my grandson, is bawling his eyes out and crying and saying Grandpa, Grandpa, would you help me? Grandpa? And for the life of me, it sounds exactly like my grandson," said Ali, who lives in the Niagara region of Ontario.

Ali was unaware that he was falling for a popular over-the-phone scam, known as the grandparent scam or the emergency scam.

His grandson had not been arrested. He was not facing drug charges. It was all a con.

From Nov. 3 to Nov. 8, the fake police officers convinced Ali to make three large cash withdrawals from his bank, Meridian Credit Union, totalling $28,500 dollars.

They told Ali they would send a courier to pick up the cash and the courier would share a verbal password – "Code yellow" – to prove they were sent there by the court.

In less than a week, the scammers collected almost $30,000 in cash from Ali's front door step.

Jeff Horncastle, the client and communications officer for the Canadian Antifraud Centre (CAC), said grandparent scams like the one Ali was victim to are increasing across the province.

Data from CAC shows that in 2021 there were 240 reported grandparent scams in Ontario, with 92 victims losing almost $650,000 altogether.

By August of 2022, CAC received 700 reports of grandparent scams with 343 victims together losing over $3.1 million.

Family wants Meridian bank held accountable

In Ali's case, his daughter Karen Bull discovered her father was being scammed.

She said she wants to know why his bank, Meridian Credit Union, didn't do more to stop this from happening.

Bull said she and her sister were recently given power of attorney over her parents' joint bank account, from which Ali took the cash. Neither were alerted about the large withdrawals.

Tom McFeat/CBC
Tom McFeat/CBC

After she witnessed the "courier" make a pick up at her parents' house, Bull contacted police. The next day she said she went to Meridian Credit Union and spoke to a manager.

"Why didn't somebody call me? This is very unusual behaviour for my dad," she said, adding she also asked why they didn't contact her mother, who was also on the account.

Meridian senior public relations manager Teresa Pagnutti told CBC Hamilton, "Power of attorneys and joint account holders are able to review all account transactions," but tellers are "not required to notify other account holders or powers of attorney of transaction activity" if they are "able to transact on their own."

"They said, well, you know, your dad lied to us about what he was using the money for," Bull said.

The fake RCMP officers told Ali to lie about why he was taking out the money, he said. They had Ali withdraw the money from two different Meridian branches.

CBC Hamilton asked Scott Windsor, vice president of corporate communications with Meridian Credit Union, if there are policies that help bank tellers identify elderly people who have been coached into lying about why they are making multiple large bank withdrawals.

Windsor told CBC Hamilton he was unable to share whether the bank tracks large cash withdrawals taken from multiple branches.

"Unfortunately, in some instances, members may misrepresent the intended purpose of their transactions and be insistent to receive their money, even if warned about suspicious fraudulent or scam transactions," he said in an email.

Ali said he was not informed about grandparent scams by the tellers, and was only asked questions about what he was spending the money on. First, he said he was buying a car. The second withdrawal, he said was to fix the roof on his house.

Ali said the third time he withdrew money, he told the bank he was taking out an inheritance for his grandson, and they asked him to sign a waiver that the bank was not responsible if he lost the two envelopes of hundred dollar bills he was given.

"They wanted to make sure that if I walked out that door and got hit on the head, and somebody took that money from me, that they were not responsible," he said.

Niagara Regional Police make arrest 

Niagara police arrested a 22-year-old woman on Nov. 17, 2022 in connection with Ali's case. She was charged with fraud over $5,000 and possession of property obtained by a crime over $5,000.

Police say the woman, allegedly, drove a grey 2006 Honda Civic to Ali's residence on three different occasions to pick up the $28,500 in increments.

Currently, Ali has not had any of his money returned.

Bull says her family is happy an arrest was made, but they feel vulnerable because the fraudsters know her father's phone number and home address.

"The police are maybe making some type of progress, but you know, from what I've been reading, this is a much bigger thing.

Dan Taekema/CBC
Dan Taekema/CBC

Niagara police say they are continuing to investigate, and they believe there may be more victims in the region.

"We are noticing a large increase in emergency type scams," Horncastle, with the CAC, said.

"In the first eight months of 2022 there was $4.5 million lost in Canada," he said.

Horncastle said if you receive a call from someone claiming to be a police officer or an RCMP officer, call your local police or RCMP station to confirm, even if the caller ID says the call is coming from their number.

"Fraudsters have the ability to manipulate the phone number that shows up on your call display," he said.

"Don't trust the number on your call display, always make the outgoing call."