If your grandson calls from Mexico and asks you to wire him money for a medical emergency, take the time to make sure that the caller is indeed your grandson.
This is one of the tips that Cpl. Ron McDonald of the Headingley Rural RCMP detachment discussed at a recent Headingley Seniors Services lunch and learn session on fraud and scams
"This is a prevalent thing that’s happening in every community," McDonald said.
He added that fraudsters commonly target older people because they tend to be more trusting.
Stealing money from Canadians is big business for crooks around the world. McDonald was previously stationed in Ottawa, working on the national proceeds of crime initiative. He said the high amount of money being taken, with much of it used to fund international terrorist activity, is shocking.
The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre is the government agency that receives and logs over 300 calls a day from Canadians reporting fraud. In 2010, its staff recorded over $35 million in money lost, but many victims of fraud are too embarrassed to call and report their losses.
McDonald said people suspecting fraud or scams through the mail, phone or online should contact his detachment and also the Anti-Fraud Centre.
While frauds have been perpetrated for centuries, the most common ones occurring now in Manitoba are the aforementioned grandparent scam, the lottery/prize pitch, and West African letter fraud.
McDonald said he’s aware of three people who recently received the lottery/prize pitch in some form. It requires that the potential victim deposit a phony cheque into their personal bank account, then withdraw some of the money immediately, using it to buy a wire transfer to be sent to the fraudster. The cheque eventually bounces and the person is on the hook to the bank for the entire amount.
He cautioned, "If it seems too good to be true, it usually is."
He also recommended that people look closely at any written communication because the frauds are often conducted by people in other countries whose English language skills aren’t good. As well, online pitches are usually sent through free Yahoo, Gmail or Hotmail addresses.
If you have caller ID, a fraudster’s phone number might not have a local area code. However, McDonald said, criminals will swap the SIM cards in cell phones making it seem like a phone call is coming from a local number, but the caller could be on the other side of the world.
Other warning signals are a request to keep your "win" secret. If you’re being asked to take an action, the caller could try to pressure you and cause you to let your guard down.
He showed an email message that was supposedly sent from the Royal Bank telling the recipient that their account was suspended because of suspicious activity and they had to click on a link to correct the situation.
"Never click on a link," McDonald said. He added that any financial institution won’t communicate a customer’s problem in that manner and the recipient should call their bank to report this type of message.
You can report frauds at www.antifraudcentre.ca or by calling 1-800-495-8501.
Watch for McDonald’s tips on avoiding identity theft in the next issue of The Headliner.