‘Grandparent scams’ cost seniors over $9.2M last year. Here’s how to protect yourself

Click to play video: 'Consumer Matters: Cracking down on scam calls'
Consumer Matters: Cracking down on scam calls
WATCH: Cracking down on scam calls – Jan 30, 2023

A significant rise in so-called emergency or grandparent phone scams targeting Canadian seniors has prompted a warning from police and anti-fraud officials.

The RCMP, Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) and the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC) said in a statement Thursday that over $9.2 million in losses were reported by seniors who fell victim to such scams in 2022 — up from $2.4 million in 2021. Those numbers may only represent five to 10 per cent of all victims, as the vast majority do not report being scammed.

Officials are asking Canadians to warn and educate seniors in their lives about these scams and encourage them to report any suspicious calls they may receive.

“This one conversation could be life changing,” said Chris Lynam, director general of the CAFC.

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What's a grandparent or emergency scam?

In a grandparent or emergency scam, fraudsters will call seniors pretending to be a grandchild or other family member, or may also pose as a law enforcement official or a lawyer representing a loved one.

The scammer will claim the family member was involved in an emergency situation — a car accident, a medical episode, an arrest or a criminal charge — and demand the senior provide money for alleged bail, legal fees, fines or other supposed bills.

Victims of the scam are led to believe they can’t discuss the situation with anyone close to them due to a court-enforced gag order, isolating the senior to only trust the scammer on the other end of the line.

Click to play video: 'Seniors targeted in growing number of frauds and scams'
Seniors targeted in growing number of frauds and scams

The scammer then directs the senior to withdraw cash from their financial institution, which is either picked up by an associate of the caller or sent by the senior through a courier service. Some seniors have also reported paying in cryptocurrency.

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The scams “use urgency and the manipulation of emotions to extort money from victims,” the joint statement says.

Thursday’s joint statement says Ontario saw the most reported losses from these scams last year with over $5.4 million. Seniors in Alberta reported more than $1.1 million, followed by Quebec ($732,000), British Columbia ($322,000) and Manitoba ($313,000).

The RCMP, OPP and CAFC will launch a five-day campaign on Friday that will provide tips and resources to help educate seniors and their families about emergency scams and how to prevent losing money to them.

The agencies suggested on Thursday that families consider devising a code word that seniors can use to determine if the scammer is really a loved one.

Financial institutions have also begun warning clients about emergency scams. TD Bank advises seniors to take steps to verify the caller is who they claim to be by asking questions and even trying to contact the family member in question to determine if they are in trouble.

Anyone who receives a scam call is urged to report it to police and the CAFC.

Reported instances of all types of fraud to the CAFC last year totalled over $530 million in losses from victims, shattering the record of $380 million set in 2021.

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The higher number in losses came despite a drop in the number of actual victims, however, from 68,087 in 2021 to 56,352 in 2022, according to the CAFC.

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