#romancescams | Seniors armed against a host of fraud at March safety symposium


Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre senior support and volunteer unit co-ordinator Carol Gilmore led an afternoon-long anti-fraud discussion at the symposium.

LITTLE CURRENT – The Northeast Town held a seniors’ safety symposium earlier this year in what was one of the last public gatherings to take place before COVID-19 restrictions took hold.

The morning session on March 11 brought information on seniors driving from the Ministry of Transportation and the afternoon presentation was titled ‘anti-fraud discussion,’ featuring Carol Gilmore of the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.

Ms. Gilmore, a senior support and volunteer unit co-ordinator for the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre pointed out that today’s fraudsters largely seek to “steal a small amount from a great number of people,” but went on to note that some types of fraud, especially the so-called romance scam, can wind up taking everything—and it can strike anyone.

“Even those of us in law enforcement are not immune,” she said, going on to show a short video that demonstrated a confidence scam perpetrated on a police officer.

One of the more challenging aspects of dealing with senior fraud is the embarrassment that comes along with being conned. “Not only have they lost money, but they have been duped,” said Ms. Gilmore. “They think they are the only one.” They are not. The various types of schemes in play these days are taking in huge sums from a vast array of people.

The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre depends on reports of frauds taking place in the wild in order to triangulate in on the fraudsters to provide the operational support to shut them down.

“We centralize information to share with law enforcement agencies who have jurisdiction,” explained Ms. Gilmore. “The more we can show patterns of deception the better our chances of shutting them down.”

“So please recognize it, take a few moments to call,” she said. “Obviously seniors are targeted and that is of particular concern because they are not able to replenish their resources the way younger people can.”

Key scams include phoney contractors who try to get more information from seniors. Data is gold these days and scammers can resell information to other con artists. Similarly, there is the government agency scam where they claim to be updating the database in order to get people to reveal personal information. 

Another personal information scam is the phishing scam where a link in the email sends the reader to another site that looks for information. “Even clicking on the link can lead to losses as they may load malware onto your computer or phone that can track what you enter on your computer.”

The aforementioned romance scam is a particularly vicious bit of business in that the victims often refuse to believe that they are being duped, wanting desperately to believe they have found true love. “Victims end up mortgaging homes, losing everything because they want so much to believe it is real.”

Other scams targeting seniors are those that fall into the realm of extortion. “It’s ‘do this or else’,” said Ms. Gilmore. Often this involves a supposed issue with your computer such as a virus. “’This is your lucky day, we are here to help you,’ they say; it would be nice, but it’s not real.”

Another common scam is a call from someone claiming to be offering to lower the victim’s credit card rates. “Just call your bank,” she said. “Tell them you have been a good customer for x number of years and you want a better rate. The banks won’t call you.”

Duct cleaning calls are another venue to get into seniors’ homes to case them for valuables. “There are legitimate companies, but many of these callers are just looking to get in your home or to charge you for substandard services,” said Ms. Gilmore. 

One interesting new twist is the game where the caller advises the victim to call the number on the back of your credit card. “What scammers have learned is that it takes time for a call to hang up, so when you dial the number the scammers are still on the line. You think you are talking to the credit card company, but it is just one of the scammers.”

A key message Ms. Gilmore emphasized is to “take five breaths, wait five minutes and call someone. Verify, verify, verify. Call a number you have researched, not one the person on the phone gave you. No government agency will ever call you to verify your information.”

Share the information with two people, she advised, no matter what the person on the phone tries to convince you. With the grandparent scam, the fraudsters are extremely sophisticated and quite often do their homework, scanning Facebook posts and profiles to glean the information they need to reel you in.

“Whatever the situation they are in, if your grandchild is in jail, they will still be in jail tomorrow,” she said. “Don’t be panicked into letting your guard down.”

If you do (or suspect that you have) become a victim of fraud, Ms. Gilmore urged seniors to take the time to call the fraud centre to report the incident. “That is how we are able to shut these criminals down.”

The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre can be reached 10 am to 4:30 pm, Monday to Friday toll free at 1-888-495-8501. “If it is after hours or on a weekend, call your local police service,” advised Ms. Gilmore.

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