Brandon phone scam incidents prompt police warning
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If you are a senior and get a phone call saying your grandchild is in trouble and money is urgently needed — the best advice is tough love, police say: hang up.
The Brandon and Winnipeg police services issued the warning Tuesday, after two people in Brandon were recently defrauded of money via what’s known as a grandparent or senior scam.
Brandon police said both reports were received Saturday, with each of the victims being taken for more than $5,000.
“In each case, the victims received a phone call claiming their relative was in some type of trouble and needing financial assistance,” a statement by the Brandon Police Service said. “A suspect attended to the homes of the victims and personally collected the money.”
Police continue to investigate and no arrests had yet been made.
Winnipeg Police Service Sgt. Trevor Thompson, with the financial crimes unit, said such scams pop up every so often.
“It’s like whack-a-mole all day long, but as long as the money flows, it won’t stop,” Thompson said. “We’re not going to arrest our way out of fraud. There is an infinite number of victims.”
In October 2022, city police announced five such scam victims had suffered “significant losses” and released a photograph of a male suspect who may have been involved.
In August, two Ontario women were arrested after allegedly swindling nine seniors of more than $100,000 in total.
Thompson said with the average fraud ringing up $6,000-$8,000, some of the best advice police can give is for people to just hang up on potential fraudsters and contact a trusted relative for confirmation.
“People with elderly parents, you need to have that conversation, so when that call comes they know what to do,” he said. “But it is hard, because there is always an urgency locked into the phone call. When people think their niece or nephew or grandchild is in trouble, the head shuts down and the heart goes out.”
Personal data found in obituaries or posted on social media can be used by fraudsters, Thompson added.
“People put so much information out on open source platforms now,” he said. “The typically know who they are calling and they even know the names. They have the name of the grandson or granddaughter. It all adds an air of legitimacy.”
Erin Crawford, program director for the Alzheimer Society of Manitoba, said the people the organization helps are already vulnerable.
“It really is a proactive thing — it is how to project yourself how not to become a victim of scams,” Crawford said. “We tell them, if they say it is a bank calling, to call the person back or, even better, don’t continue the conversation. Hang up and call (the bank) yourself. That way, if they did call you, you can talk to them.
“You’re never sure who called you but you know who you called.”
Crawford said there can be a generational difference when it comes to the phone because, while young people will ignore the phone when it rings, older people feel they immediately need to answer it.
Susan Sader, executive director of Good Neighbours Active Living Centre, said a seminar it held in January to educate seniors on how to avoid falling victim to telephone scams was so successful it is organizing another for April 5.
“It’s worth everyone taking a moment and wondering ‘Is this really true?’” Sader said of potential fraud calls. “Just paying attention to these kinds of things will help.”
Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.