Forewarned is forearmed: VPD workshops aim to empower seniors against scammers

Click to play video: 'VPD warns seniors about new twist on scams'
VPD warns seniors about new twist on scams
Artificial intelligence is giving scam artists a new weapon. Grace Ke reports Vancouver Police are getting the message out to seniors to be especially careful – Feb 28, 2024

There’s an old saying that prevention is the best medicine.

It’s advice Vancouver police believe applies to fighting crime as well, particularly when it comes to scammers, con artists and fraudsters targeting the city’s seniors.

On Wednesday, police held a workshop with dozens of seniors at a Vancouver long-term care home, in the hope of arming them with information that could protect them from falling prey to a scam.

Click to play video: 'Ask an Expert: Protecting seniors from fraud'
Ask an Expert: Protecting seniors from fraud

The Broadway Lodge reached out to police to ask for the presentation after one of its residents lost about $5,000 to phone scammers.

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“We tried to go to the bank a few times but the money had already been sent,” Broadway Lodge lifestyles and hospitality manager Andii Millett said.

“It’s really important because a lot of our seniors, cellphones are very new to them, so to receive a phone call from their grandson, or granddaughter, or to receive a phone call saying you have a parcel waiting for you … they’re more likely to send money to somebody.”

Fraudsters are constantly updating their tactics, and have proven ruthless at mining social media for information about their targets.

They’re also now harnessing artificial intelligence to make their attacks even more effective. According to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, fraud cost Canadians a total of $530 million in 2022, up 40 per cent over the year prior.

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Det. Const. Juile Gilmore with the Vancouver Police Department’s Major Crime Unit helped launch the anti-scam workshops last June after meeting with seniors and seeing the need firsthand.

“We’ve all heard the stories,” she said.

“Knowledge is such a big thing. It’s really hard to catch criminals who have committed these scams, this is basically the one way we can really prevent it from happening so we don’t have to go into those steps of trying to find the money — because often the money is overseas or the suspects don’t live in the country.”

Wednesday’s event drew about 50 people, some from the care home and some from the community, and police say the events regularly draw upwards of 100 attendees.

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Gilmore said police covered common frauds like bail scams and the so-called grandparent scam in which ta caller pretends to be the victim’s grandchild. That scam cost victims more than $10 million in 2022 alone, according to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.

The workshop also gave seniors information to help them avoid being targeted by distraction theft and included a cybersecurity unit about passwords and avoiding common online attacks like phishing attempts.

“Especially with artificial intelligence, scams are changing all the time. We’ve had scenarios where people have called using other people’s voices, so it’s gotten more complex,” Gilmore said.

“Technology is great but it can also work against us.”

Vancouver police have five other seminars scheduled in the weeks ahead, all of them open to the public.

You can find more information on scam prevention for seniors or about attending a workshop at the Vancouver Police Foundation website. 

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