Common Scams Targeting Elderly Canadians: Warning Signs and Prevention Tips

Older man talking on the phone and getting aware of the common fraud scams aimed at retirees and the ways to protect themselves.

Scamming is big business in Canada – and scams against the elderly are unfortunately becoming increasingly widespread. In 2022 alone, one of the financial scams targeting the elderly, called the grandparent scam, caused over $9 million in losses. This figure had leapt up from only $2.4 million in 2021. And police believe that this figure is just the tip of the iceberg since only around 5 to 10 per cent of scams are reported.

In this blog, you will discover the common scams targeting the elderly and the warning signs to watch out for. You’ll also learn how to report a scam In Canada to protect yourself and your loved ones.

Grandparent scams

Of all the scams targeting the elderly, this is one of the most prevalent. Many elderly individuals are being scammed by this because it can be very convincing. Scammers target older people and pose either as their grandchild, a doctor or a police officer. They call their victims telling them of some kind of medical, criminal, or financial emergency that their grandchild is involved in and ask for money to help get them out of trouble, usually in the form of gift cards or a money transfer.

Many elderly people are getting scammed this way because their first reaction is to help their grandchild.  However, you can avoid these types of financial scams by simply contacting your grandchild or other family members directly, to verify the story. Also, whenever you’re asked to pay any money with gift cards, Bitcoin or other untraceable methods, this is almost certainly a sign that this is one of the scams that target the elderly.

A Kelowna, BC woman in her 70s was scammed out of $10,500 after receiving an overseas call from someone claiming to be her son, saying he was in trouble with the police.

What to watch out for:

  • Anyone claiming to be a family member overseas (or a friend calling on behalf of your relative) who says they’re in trouble.
  • Any unknown caller asking for information on your family members.
  • If you are unsure if a call like this is legitimate, you can check the family member’s whereabouts with other relatives before you provide any information to the caller.

Romance scams

While Romance Scams do not exclusively target the elderly, they are often the victims of this heartless scheme. Scammers typically befriend their victims online, even through reputable dating sites. The scammers use fake photos and identities to fool their victims and use emails or phone calls to convince them that this is a real relationship.

Often claiming to be temporarily overseas, they use grand displays of affection and professions of love. Once the scammers feel they have their victim’s trust, they start to ask for money, usually because of some sort of ‘emergency’ that has just come up.

Romance scams in Canada: example

A 75-year-old Ontario woman lost $140,000 sending money to her online sweetheart, “Alan”, who wrote her love poems and chatted to her by phone. Eventually “Alan” asked for money, saying he needed it to bribe officials after being arrested while on business in India. In spite of warnings from her financial advisor and her bank that this was probably a scam targeting the elderly, she ignored their advice before finally realizing “Alan” was a fraud.

What to watch for:

  • Anyone you meet online who asks you for money or to cash a cheque for them, when you’ve never met them in person.
  • Anyone who is currently overseas.
  • Anyone who professes love for you when you’ve never met.

Lottery and sweepstakes scams

Canadian lottery scams, or prize scams, target the elderly by phone, email, mail or even social media, informing them that they have won a lottery or sweepstake. They then ask for a fee to cover taxes or legal fees.

As well as stealing your money for the fee, scammers also try to get their victims’ financial information so that they can access their accounts, which they then use to launder money. One 81-year-old woman in Lethbridge, Alberta, lost $250,000 due to a Canadian lottery scam after she received a letter from the Bank of America telling her she had won an American sweepstake.

What to watch out for:

  • Any lottery for which you didn’t buy a ticket.
  • Anyone asking you to send them money to receive a prize.
  • Counterfeit cheques sent to cover costs.

Service scams

There are several scams offering fake services, but when it comes to scamming the elderly online, the most common one is when an individual claims to represent a computer company such as Microsoft. They tell their victims that their computer has been hacked and that they need technical support. The scammer then demands a fee for this service.

They try and get the victim’s credit card and attempt to get remote access to their computer, so they can steal more funds. Sometimes they will hold a computer’s data hostage and demand a ransom for its release.

The police are diligently trying to detain people scamming the elderly, many of whom are based overseas. In late 2018, Indian police arrested 63 suspects who were posing as tech support workers for several companies such as Microsoft and Apple and targeting North Americans.

What to watch out for:

  • Any service calls that are unsolicited.
  • Any pop-ups or websites telling you to call a service number.
  • Anyone asking for payment with bitcoin or gift cards.

Other scams to be aware of

  • Some scammers will send emails or text messages telling you to click on a link to get your tax refund, that you are accused of tax evasion or an investigation has been started on your claim. The aim is to gather your personal information or extort money from you, often in the form of bitcoin or pre-paid credit or gift cards. It is important not to click on any links sent, or provide any personal information to these scammers.
  • Another common scam is one that involves a phone call, text or email asking you to verify your banking details. It sometimes tells you that your card or account has been disabled for security reasons, and then gives a link to click on to enable it. A couple in Nova Scotia were victims of this scam and lost $3,000. Make sure to confirm these calls, emails or texts are legal before opening or responding. If you are not sure, you can check with your bank directly.

How to report a scam in Canada

If you have become a victim of a scam, gather all the information you can relating to the scam and contact your local police. Then, report it to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre. When it comes to scam prevention for Canadians, Canada’s Anti-Fraud Centre’s site also has up-to-date tips on protecting yourself from all known current scams. It is important to educate yourself and your loved ones about this so that you can protect your assets.

If you come across a scam against the elderly you should report it to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, as well as the Better Business Bureau even if you don’t fall for it. Their scam tracker has details of all new scams that are reported to the site.

The best way to guard against fraudulent scams is to verify everything. Don’t buy into any unsolicited product or service offers or appeals for money. Do your research, talk to someone about it and ask for advice.

Never divulge personal and private information like passwords, pin numbers or banking information, as this can lead to credit card or bank account fraud.

Just remember, when it comes to scam prevention for Canadians, a general rule is to act on the side of caution – and if you aren’t sure, ask for help!

Resources from the Canadian Banking Association to fight fraud online

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