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More and more these days, we are hearing stories of seniors being scammed out of their money in what authorities have labeled “elder scams”. Typically, this kind of fraud comes in the form of a phone call from someone pretending to be a grandchild or another family member. The caller may pretend to be calling from a local tax authority, law enforcement official or computer software service. The fraudsters are deliberately targeting seniors, but there are ways you can protect yourself and prevent the scammers from extorting money from you.

Grandparent scams

How it Starts

This kind of scam involves a phone call from someone pretending to be a grandchild or other family in distress or a desperate situation. The caller may start the call by asking “Do you know who this is?” tricking you into giving them a loved one’s name. Once the caller has identified themself fraudulently as a grandchild they will proceed to tell you they are in an unusual or dangerous situation and require funds to help them. They’ll ask for money for medical bills, bail or travel expenses, claiming they were in an accident or placed under arrest or need to get home. In some cases, the fraudster will put someone else on the phone to impersonate an authority figure such as a police officer, lawyer or other government official.

What they ask for

The scammers may ask you to withdraw money from your account and send it to an unknown account via wire transfer. They may even send a courier to pick up a cheque directly from your home.

How to protect yourself

Scammers will use emotional manipulation to tug at your heartstrings and really make you think you have a grandchild in distress. They are highly skilled at being evasive with details while simultaneously convincing you to send money without checking if what they are saying is true. Their goal is to make you panic into making a rushed decision. Some things you can do to protect yourself and your money:

  • Ask for a phone number you can call back, then call the known number for your grandchild to verify the situation.
  • Never give our your personal, banking or credit card information. When you are asked “Do you know who this is?” simply answer “no”.
  • Ask for details. Fraudsters will not have clear details about the situation and will likely stumble over their words when you ask questions.
  • Be wary when asked to buy a gift card. This is a preferred method of fraudulently getting funds and is untraceable. A government agency will never ask for a gift card as a form of payment.

Scammers are trained to use every method of manipulation to encourage you to send money. Their goal is to keep you on the phone, escalating the situation and your emotions so you feel pressured into helping. Do not try to engage in a conversation. The best course of action is to hang up and contact a family member to find out the truth.

Service-tech support scams

How it starts

This kind of scam involves the caller alerting you to an issue with your computer or internet service. The fraudster will tell you they are acting as a representative of a large software company. They’ll inform you they have “detected” security issues with your computer, or have “confirmed” your internet has been breached and all your passwords may have been compromised. The fraudsters can frequently “spoof” the phone number of a major corporation, so you call display will show the company name or a legitimate phone number from the software company.

What they ask for

These scammers want access to your computer. Using remote access, they can make it appear as if your computer is experiencing problems. Alternatively, scammers might initiate contact by displaying fake error messages or pop-ups on websites you are trying to visit. These fake errors are meant to entice you to call their fake “technical support hotline”, allowing them to access your computer and steal your private information. They use lots of technical terms to convince you that the problems with your computer are real. They may ask you to open some files or run a scan on your computer. The fraudsters will offer solutions to your problems and ask for a payment or a subscription to their service to prevent further issues. 

How to protect yourself

If the caller says they have detected a problem with your computer, hang up. Do not give out your credit card number. Do not call the number that pops up on your computer screen, since this is how the scammers will gain access to your computer. 

Fake prizes

How it starts

The fake prize scam usually starts with a phone call, email or pop-up on your computer telling you that you haven a significant prize. Also called a sweepstakes or lottery scam, these fraudsters  also use text messages to let you know you’ve won a big prize, with a link to follow in order to claim your prize. The scammers usually tell you they are calling from a well-known lottery, or a “national sweepstakes bureau” in order to gain your confidence that what they are saying is credible.

What they ask for

These scammers want your money and your credit card. In some cases, they will tell you in order to claim your prize, you have to pay a small administrative fee, or shipping costs, or taxes on the prize. They may ask that you go to your bank, get a bank draft or a cashier’s cheque and wait for their courier service to pick it up at your home. Fraudsters will use language to pressure you too make a rushed decision, to act fast before someone else claims the “prize”.

How to protect yourself

You never have to pay for a prize you’ve won. No credible lottery or sweepstakes will contact you with a demand for payment. If you are unsure, hang up, and call the real company and ask for clarification. Never call a number sent to you blindly in a text message, an email, or a pop-up.

For more information about recent scams and tips on how to protect yourself and your loved ones, visit the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre's website.


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