A recent scam in the Winnipeg area targeting seniors is alarming, but residents can fight back. By understanding the threat of fraud and taking preventive measures, families will be better-positioned to effectively slam the door on scammers.
The Winnipeg fraud is one that tugs at the heartstrings. Scammers call and pretend to be grandchildren in need of money.
Winnipeg police report 35 local grandparents were bilked out of more than $118,000 since last September.
This grandparent scam is just one of many ways fraudsters victimize our elders.
According to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, about 80 per cent of all "prize" or "lottery" frauds target Canadians in their late 50s and older.
Online romance fraud is one of the highest grossing senior scams. The CAFC reports older Canadian victims of romance scams lost $16 million in 2012.
These losses are just the tip of the iceberg. Statistics Canada data show seven in 10 frauds against seniors are not reported to police.
So, what can be done? Help seniors acquire the knowledge and confidence needed to spot potential fraud before they are victimized.
To protect against the "grandchild" scam, seniors should be counselled to always involve family members if they receive an urgent request for funds from a supposed grandson or granddaughter.
Family members can urge elderly parents to never open the door to a stranger and to add a "No Solicitation" sign to their mailbox or consider installing a security intercom system.
Protecting against telemarketing fraud can be straightforward, as well. Emphasize it's perfectly acceptable to hang up on strangers trying to sell something. Better yet, suggest they get call display and not answer calls from any unrecognized names and numbers.
More seniors are using the Internet, email and social media. Family members should educate their parents or grandparents about phishing, keeping their computer patches up-to-date and using a firewall and good anti-virus software. They should also be suspicious of unsolicited email containing pleas for money.
Seniors often spend most of their time at home. Many are dependent on others due to chronic health issues, and many are isolated and alone. All of these factors, plus the fact the elderly tend to be trusting, make seniors vulnerable.
Help is available. An example is CAFC's highly successful "Senior Busters" program, which is dedicated to reducing mass-marketing fraud and identity theft. This volunteer group provides outstanding support and information to seniors who suspect they may have been victims of fraud.
People can report actual or suspected fraud to the CAFC by visiting www.antifraudcentre.ca or calling toll-free 1-888-495-8501. If a fraud scam has occurred, it is important to let the authorities know. Call the police and the CAFC. As the fraud centre notes on its website, the information may help identify a new or unique scam early.
A new and helpful resource is a fraud prevention guide coming soon from the Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada called Protecting You and Your Money: A Guide to Avoiding Theft and Fraud. Unfortunately, fraud threatens people of all ages. A recent CPA Canada survey found nearly a third of those surveyed had been victims of financial fraud and 43 per cent knew someone who was victimized.
Jennifer Fiddian-Green, CPA, a partner with Grant Thornton LLP, is an investigative forensic accountant who has worked extensively with police to track down fraudsters and money launderers.