The Edmonton Police Service is educating seniors about fraud in an attempt to stop elaborate crime networks from continuing
Our world is far more connected than it’s ever been and that connection can make for increased cultural understanding and community. But as with any technology, there are also downfalls. Criminals can now access our information in more ways than ever before, says Edmonton police detective Bill Allen.
The Anti-Fraud Centre says that in 2015, over 13,000 seniors were scammed out of more than $19 million, which is up $9 million from the previous year.
And sadly, senior fraud specialist Daniel Williams says, these numbers are probably far lower than reality since the Centre predicts only one to five per cent of fraud victims report their crimes.
Characteristics of seniors who may be most vulnerable to these crimes include those with access to funds, a willingness to help others, a limited technical knowhow, as well as those who are isolated or lonely or have a cognitive impairment or fear authority.
Many of these scams play off these vulnerabilities through elaborate crime networks that can spread across continents making finding all involved a near impossibility.
This year, Edmonton Community Foundation provided the Edmonton Police Services with a grant that went toward creating a brochure that breaks down the facts about seniors’ fraud. The best way to take back power is to educate people so they can avoid becoming victims, says Allen.
COMMON SENIORS SCAMS:
Canada Revenue Agency Scam: The criminal says the victim owes back taxes and will be arrested if they do not pay. “They’re working off that fear that taxes need to be paid on time,” says Allen.
Romance: Criminals build a relationship with the victim, eventually asking for money to help them out of a situation or to help them visit the victim.
Inheritance: The criminal claims to be a lawyer, saying a relative in another country died and left some money. The victim needs to send money to collect the inheritance.
Immigration: Someone claims the victim owes outstanding fees to the government, and if they aren’t paid, the person will be deported.
Computer Virus Scam: Someone calls saying there’s a virus on the victim’s computer. They ask for remote access to the computer, and then ask for a fee to remove the virus.
Grandma/Grandpa Scam: The criminal claims to be a relative, asking the victim for money to help with a dire situation. “They may make 1,000 calls, but even if only two or three bite, that’s a lot of money,” says Allen.
RECOGNIZING AND AVOIDING FRAUD:
If someone unknown or untrustworthy is asking for banking or personal information, that is a red flag. Do not give it to them. Unsolicited e-mails, phone calls or letters are also suspect, and should not be answered.
Caller identification can be altered to make it look like a legitimate number, so do not trust it.
Organizations like the Canada Revenue Agency do not call people and demand tax repayment – these types of calls are fraudulent. If someone calls asking for payment and gets aggressive and doesn’t allow time to look into their claims, it is a fraudulent call.
Criminals often offer the victim large sums of money in short periods of time.
HOW FAMILIES CAN PREVENT FRAUD:
Be sympathetic, not judgemental. Allen says many senior victims of fraud do see warning signs but do not ask questions in case they look ill informed. “That’s also one of the reasons seniors often don’t report it because they fear losing their independence,” says Allen.
Ensure close connections. Many seniors are at risk for fraud because they may lack strong social relationships. Individuals who are isolated will more easily fall for scams that involve the criminals pretending to befriend the victim.
“Even if it was just an attempt, we’d like that information to be reported to the Canadian Anti-Fraud centre,” says Allen. The organization, he says, has a program called Seniors Busters, volunteer seniors who ensure their peers are doing well after a report of fraud. Allen explains that even once a senior is informed fraud is happening, they may still be at risk for continuing the behaviour, due to cognitive impairments or problems with isolation.
You can report a crime to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre by calling 1-888-495-8501.
You can learn more about the seniors’ fraud brochures by calling the Economic Crimes Section at 780-421-3400.