It is an unfortunate reality that scams are costing seniors as much as $36.5 billion a year. That’s an astronomical figure.
Why are seniors frequent targets? The abundance of time and easy access to their funds is a common answer, especially because more of them have embraced the digital atmosphere.
“Internet use from 2013-2016 rose from 65 per cent to 81 per cent amongst 65 to 74 year olds, and from 35 per cent to 50 per cent among those aged 75 and older.” - General Social Survey: Canadians at Work and Home (GSS)
These scams often prey on very vulnerable members of society, taking advantage of their kindness and willingness to use their resources to help others.
The scope of the problem may even be underreported. There is a common theme of embarrassment and shame that holds many seniors back from reporting being the victim of such a fraud.
Staying informed about common frauds and how they are perpetrated is a powerful tool for combatting this problem. According to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, these are the five most common scams out there that seniors need to watch out for:
1. Prize Scams
No doubt you’ve come across this one before. You get a phone call or email saying that you’ve won a contest (that you never even entered in the first place), it may even be from someone claiming to be from a reputable company like Reader’s Digest.
The instructions are simple: in order to claim your prize all you have to do is pay a fee to cover any legal obligations associated with the contest. Once the money has been sent, the promised prize is never received.
2. Emergency scams
My own grandmother was hit with this one before.
She got a call from someone claiming to be “your granddaughter!” It’s a tricky way of answering the question of “who is this” without mentioning any names that the scammer doesn’t have.
The person claiming to be her granddaughter informed her that she was “stuck in Mexico” and needed a few thousand dollars sent over right away for help.
Thankfully my grandmother hung up and called everyone first to see if any of us were actually in Mexico. The answer was, of course, no.
There are other ways scammers use the grandchild card to their advantage - they could claim that they’re in the hospital or that they need bail money. Either way, it’s always best to check before you send over anything.
3. Service scams
Service scams have increased in popularity over the last few years.
It works by someone calling (or you getting a popup on a website saying that you need to call a certain number) claiming that they’re from a reputable software company. They’ll tell you that they’ve detected something wrong with your computer (a virus, for example), and that it needs to be fixed straight away.
Once you’ve given them access to your computer they can go in and see all your important information, including your financials.
4. Romance scams
According to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, romance scams are the number one scam in terms of total dollars lost.
Scammers target lonely seniors online and spend time gaining their trust, claiming to be someone they’re not. They’ll profess their love and mention that they’d like to meet but are overseas. It’s at that point they’ll start asking for money to either travel to meet, or other “emergencies.” That’s exactly what happened here, and here.
It’s important to remember to never send money to someone you’ve never met.
5. CRA scams
This scam targets everyone, not just seniors, but it’s certainly worth a mention.
Someone claiming to be from the CRA will call you saying that you owe a large amount of money, and if you don’t send it immediately, you will either be arrested or have your accounts frozen.
It may seem aggressive, but it works. People are instructed to go to their local post office and send a moneygram, or they’ll ask you to buy a bunch of gift cards (often iTunes) for them. They do this because gift cards are harder to trace.
It may seem obvious to some, but it’s worth mentioning: the actual CRA would never ask for payment in the form of gift cards. They will also never call you as a first contact point - they operate by sending letters in the mail first.
So what can seniors do to protect themselves? Make sure to never give out any personal or banking information to anyone on the internet or the phone. Keep an open dialogue with other family members to make sure that when anything like this comes up, it’s best practice to ask someone about it. They’re not alone.
The more you know.