If you’re one of the thousands of seniors who every year are defrauded of some of their hard-earned savings, acting Sgt. Jereme Leslie of the Saanich Police has some advice.
“The first thing is, don’t be so embarrassed that you don’t report the fraud. There are people out there who do this professionally and they will prey on basic human nature to separate the unwary from their hard-earned savings,” said Leslie, adding seniors tend to be amongst the most vulnerable when it comes to scams.
The problem, said Leslie, is that scams have become very sophisticated and the old adage of a fool and his (or her) money being soon parted is often neither accurate or fair.
Take the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) scam.
A caller claims to be from the CRA and, using very forceful language, they demand payment for outstanding taxes. The threats escalate to deportation, court charges, or even jail. The caller demands a credit card number to settle the debt immediately. If you don’t have a credit card, they will tell you how to purchase a pre-paid card.
“In some cases, they will even take pre-paid iTunes cards,” said Leslie with a chuckle. “That should be a red flag, I would think.”
Of, course the caller is not affiliated with the CRA and the money taken from your credit card is gone forever.
In a variation on this scam, the fraudsters send an email informing the recipient of an unexpected refund from the CRA. All one has to do is follow a link to deposit the money to their bank, but the link includes a request for the account number and its passwords. Not surprisingly, no money is deposited, but a lot of money will be transferred out of the account.
Other scams rely on the kind heart of an elderly person who, out of the blue, will receive a call from who they believe to be a grandchild, great-nephew or some other relative with whom the elderly person has not had contact for some time. The call is desperate – the relative has been wrongly arrested and it’s all a misunderstanding. They need money for bail and they’re terrified of being locked away with criminals.
The problem is that the voice on the line is no relative and your name and that of your relatives have been garnered from one of a thousand online sources.
Some scams rely on greed and the thought that one can make free money. There are a number of variations on this theme, but they all inform the victim (on very official emails or letters) that they have the opportunity to claim a huge sum of money. All the victim has to do is transfer some money to cover the legal expenses related to getting the money into their hands. Whether it’s a Nigerian prince trying to get his fortune from his home country or a previously unclaimed lottery win, the truth is, it’s a scam.
Other frauds are time tested, low tech and more direct. A senior answers the door to find a friendly representative of a home repair company. They are in the neighbourhood and just noticed that your roof, driveway, siding or yard is in need of immediate work. They’ll give you a great deal today only since they are in the neighbourhood anyway. You pay the great sale price, and the work is never done.
The problem with all of these attempts to separate a trusting soul from their money is the ingenuity and skill of the criminals. Every day these hustlers devise new ways of tricking trusting individuals. So much so that the Saanich Police Department (like many other law enforcement agencies across the country) have dedicated a page on their website to the latest scams. It can be found at saanichpolice.ca/index.php/community-safety/current-scams.
Information on scams can also be found at antifraudcentre.ca where victims of fraud can also report their experience as a warning to others.
According to Leslie, the best way to protect yourself is to be alert. Ask questions, and never rush into any transaction involving your money or personal information. Take the time to think the situation over and talk to others about what’s going on.
Finally, if you are tricked and lose some money, don’t be ashamed or keep quiet about what’s happened. Contact the police. They may not be able to get your money back – they probably won’t – but they may be able to warn others and, with luck, even apprehend the scoundrels who are out searching for their next victim.