A 93-year-old B.C. woman is warning the public after losing thousands of dollars to a scam that continues to target seniors in parts of the province.
“It’s just so devastating,” said Ester Rice.
On Jan. 11, Rice said she and her 88-year-old husband received a phone call from a fraudster claiming to be a lawyer representing her grandson. “He said our grandson was in a car accident and he was taken to jail and his lawyer wants him to bail him out and he needs money,” said the Surrey resident.
Rice said she had heard of these types of scams before but says the scammer sounded very convincing. “We felt just like we were hypnotized, almost mesmerized by these people,” Rice told Consumer Matters.
The fraudster instructed Rice to withdraw $8,900 in cash and to tell bank staff the funds were needed for renovations.
Rice said a staff member at the CIBC where she has been banking since the 1970’s suggested a bank draft, but Rice said the con artist had convinced her cash was the only option.
She had a $1,000 limit at the ATM but bank staff eventually raised her limit so she could withdraw the funds, Rice explained.
“I really didn’t know how to withdraw from the ATM machine and she did it for me,” said Rice.
The fraudster eventually arrived at Rice’s door where he took off with thousands of dollars of Rice’s money.
“I feel so bad being taken by these people,” she said.
Rice’s daughter, Jo, says the bank should have asked her mom more questions. “It’s their pensions gone,” said Jo. “My mother normally doesn’t take out this amount of cash so maybe there could be more of a protocol or questions asked.”
CIBC said in a statement to Consumer Matters:
“We work hard to protect our clients, especially seniors, from fraud. Our team is trained to ask questions when transactions do not fit a client’s usual banking pattern and to offer alternatives to cash such as a bank draft payable to a verified payee, which we did in this case. This is a very unfortunate situation which highlights the importance of being suspicious of calls asking for cash to help a family member, verifying the information, and talking to your bank or to the police about the situation so that we can help to prevent fraud.”
As of Jan. 1, 2021, the banking industry has adopted a voluntary Code of Conduct for the Delivery of Banking Services to Seniors. The Financial Consumer Agency of Canada, which monitors banks, says the code of conduct requires financial institutions to “endeavor to mitigate potential financial harm to seniors.”
The Canadian Bankers Association says when it comes to the “grandson scam” and similar frauds targeting seniors, bank staff are trained to ask probing questions if a customer makes an unusual transaction. The association also says ultimately, banks must strike an appropriate balance between helping to prevent and detect fraud, while also protecting customers’ rights to access their money.
However, criminologist Vanessa Iafolla said banks could be doing more.
“There’s more that banks could do in terms of sensitizing their employees who deal with older adults who tend to bank more. They can have more detailed conversations in person, but I’m not seeing that out there in real life,” said Iafolla.
Meantime, Surrey RCMP is informing the public the “grandson scam” is on the rise. In the month of January, Surrey RCMP said out of 10 seniors, three of them fell victim to the scam with losses totaling $139,000. In Ester Rice’s case, Surrey RCMP said the investigation is ongoing to locate a suspect.
Police say to protect seniors in your life, educate them about the “grandson scam”.
Other tips include:
- Never provide any personal information over the phone
- Always verify who is calling
- Do not send money or provide credit card information to someone calling and asking for bail money
- Ask a trusted friend or family member for their opinion on the phone call
To contact Anne Drewa and Consumer Matters, email story information and contact details to email@example.com