Across the country, police and fraud-prevention experts are warning Canadians to be vigilant with reports of “grandparent scams” targeting seniors on the rise.
In 2021, the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre received reports of 379 cases involving 115 victims, with more than $1.7 million in losses. But since the start of 2022, the centre says there has been 674 cases involving 273 victims and resulting in $2.7 million in losses.
“We’re looking at almost double the number of reports, and we’re a little over halfway through the year. So it is very alarming,” Jeff Horncastle, acting client and communications outreach officer for the centre, told CTVNews.ca in a telephone interview on Friday.
Police across Canada and the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre say these scams, also known as emergency scams, typically involve a fraudster impersonating as a grandchild, niece or nephew of the victim over the phone, claiming they urgently need money after an arrest or an accident.
“The scammers are going to do a lot of research on social media,” said Horncastle. “There’s so much information available online that in a lot of cases, suspects can actually have the name of a grandchild when they call.”
Police across Canada say the scammer will often sound distressed and will start to cry. The scammer may then change their voice or hand the phone over to another scammer to impersonate a police officer, a bail officer or a lawyer as part of the operation.
Horncastle says payment is typically demanded in cash, although scammers may sometimes ask for a wire transfer or a direct deposit payment. If the victim agrees to pay, Horncastle explains the scammer will usually arrange someone to come to the victim’s home to collect the money, but they may also ask for the cash to be sent by mail.
In the Vancouver area, an 80-year-old man lost $16,000 last week, while a 76-year-old woman ended up losing her $30,000 life savings in a separate incident.
Winnipeg police said on Thursday there have been at least 15 reports of grandparent scams in the last six days, resulting in $100,000 in losses.
Similar scams have also targeted victims across Ontario, from Sault Ste. Marie to Essex County. Ottawa police last week said they’ve received reports from 20 people in the previous seven days being defrauded out of $10,000 to $30,000. In March, Toronto police said 80 seniors have been scammed a total of $1.1 million since March 2021.
HOW TO PROTECT YOURSELF AND LOVED ONES
If you receive a suspicious sounding phone call from someone claiming to be a family member, Horncastle says you should hang up and contact that family member “directly with the number you have for them.”
The same advice goes for if the caller claims to be a law enforcement agent. Horncastle says you should hang up and call your local police service to verify the legitimacy of the call.
“A lot of times, if you listen to that gut instinct, that voice in your head that tells you it doesn’t sound right, normally that instinct is right,” he said.
Even if the number displayed on the caller ID looks accurate, Horncastle warns scammers can use caller ID spoofing in order to make it look like the call is coming from a legitimate police phone number.
“It’s always better to make the outgoing call yourself,” he said.
Police across Canada are also urging Canadians to warn their elderly loved ones to be vigilant about these scams.
“It’s important to have these conversations, whether it’s your parents, your grandparents. If this is somebody that’s close to you that’s an elderly person that may not be directly family, please have this conversation with them,” Const. Jay Murray with the Winnipeg Police Service said during a press conference on Thursday.
Police agencies also point out that unlike the United States, Canada does not have a cash bail system and instead relies on sureties, which means upfront cash isn’t required to bail an accused person out of detention.
If you believe you are or have been the victim of fraud, the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre say you should contact your local police and call the centre at 1-888-495-8501 or file a report through the federal Fraud Reporting System.
With files from CTV News Winnipeg, CTV News Vancouver, CTV News Ottawa, CTV News Toronto and CTV News Northern Ontario.