Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Courier keeps seniors' cash from scammers

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Scam alert, the sequel... Last month, on the 10th anniversary of Fraud Prevention Month in Canada, I wrote a column about a chartered-accountant friend who almost got bilked out of thousands of dollars in the so-called emergency or grandparent scam.

The telephone conversation usually opens something like this, according to a national website on the subject:

Con artist: "Hi, grandma/grandpa."

Victim: "Hi."

Con artist: "Do you know who this is?"

Victim: "John?"

Con artist: "Yeah."

In my friend's case, the "John" was his son, who was supposedly in jail on an impaired-driving case and needed his dad to talk to a "lawyer" who would instruct him where to send the money.

That column prompted several emails from readers, including one that surprised and delighted me.

"I read your article (Almost duped, March 20) with the mentioning of the grandparent scam.

"I am a courier for a major courier company working in the North Kildonan/East Kildonan/Elmwood area of the city, where I have personally stopped three shipments, from three different seniors, of a considerable amount of cash being sent out. I did end up having coffee with two of the very thankful families involved and told them how the scam process had caught my attention and foiled the scammers' plan. Those events took place in August 2013, December 2013 and January 2014. If you would like to know more on how the process took place from the courier pickup standpoint, you or your colleagues may contact me."

The driver went on to suggest meeting in person over coffee. We even set a time and place. But that day, he called back to say he would have to get permission from his company.

So I contacted a spokesperson for the company, which declined giving the driver permission to do an interview, citing company policy.

That makes little sense, given the positive public relations involved, and, more importantly, the awareness it could bring to the issue.

Anyway, an RCMP media relations officer with the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre confirmed courier services have been used to transfer scammed money in a "very limited" way during the last 12 to 18 months, likely because the targeted senior is housebound and can't get to a Western Union location or even a post office.

A drugstore post office was where an 81-year-old Winnipeg widower -- who also happens to be a chartered accountant -- was told to take the first of four amounts to be transferred over four consecutive days last September when his "grandson" called because he was in jail for impaired driving. Each transfer was for $2,000, for a total of $8,000.

But when the last one didn't go through, Canada Post contacted him and returned the last $2,000.

Soon after, the real grandson happened to call and the grandfather discovered he had been scammed.

That was followed by a call from the fraudster pretending to be his grandson, instructing how to resend the fourth shipment of $2,000 that hadn't arrived. Whereupon the grandfather told him he knew it was a scam.

The caller hung up.

I asked Louis Robertson, a Mountie who handles media relations for the national anti-fraud centre, where the calls originate.

"Depends on the group," he said.

He said from about 2008 through 2011, they were known to have come from Montreal.

"Montreal is the fraudulent-telemarketing hub of Canada," he said.

What about how people are targeted?

How do the fraudsters select their targets?

"Cold-calling," he said.

Robertson said it even happened to his mother.

A few years ago, she and about 300 other residents of a seniors building got a call. Robertson said his mother recognized the scam and went door to door in the building to alert everyone.

That, in his own way, is what the widower who lost $6,000 last fall has been doing since.

"I've been telling everyone I know."

So should we all.

But there are many more types of scams which, like viruses, are constantly mutating. So educate yourself.

Check out the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre's website for more information on telephone and Internet scams and how to recognize and protect yourself from them.

Or, if you do nothing else, listen to your gut. If something feels wrong -- or too good to be true -- it probably is.

gordon.sinclair@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 8, 2014 B1

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