Seniors’ advocate wants to spread awareness of fraud, ‘grandparent scam’

By Chris Stoodley

A seniors' advocate wants people to be aware of common scams, particularly the “grandparent scam,” as Canada enters its annual Fraud Prevention Month.

President and CEO of advocacy group CanAge Laura Tamblyn Watts said events such as Fraud Prevention Month, which occurs nationally every March, comes with a goal of spreading “awareness and destigmatization.”

In January, Ottawa police warned people of a “grandparent scam” that's active in the area. The scam typically involves a teary-eyed scenario where the caller — who claims to be a family member, oftentimes a grandchild — urgently needs money.

Watts told The Sam Laprade Show the scam usually only involves the fraudster calling a grandparent and greeting them as if they were their grandchild. Upon greeting, the grandparent typically responds by asking if they're speaking to their grandchild, disclosing their name in the process.

“We try to let people know that this is out there so that they're alive to it,” she said. “And if they get caught by it, not to be ashamed but to be able to tell people that it's happened so we can try to put a stop to it as quickly as possible.”

She said part of this scam is that the so-called “grandchild” wants the grandparent to not tell their parents.

“It's playing on this special relationship that grandparents have with grandchildren, and there's a sense of urgency about it,” Watts said. “It could mean that I was in a car accident or I was in the hospital or I was caught by the police for some reason. So there's some urgency and their well-being is at risk.”

According to the Canadian Bankers Association, there are a few simple steps people can take to avoid falling victim to the “grandparent scam.”

  • Never offer information to the caller. Do not fully answer questions such as, “Do you know who this is?”
  • Press callers for details, specifically about their story or their whereabouts
  • Ask the caller personal questions only a real grandchild or family member could answer, not an imposter
  • Never provide credit card information over the phone or Internet unless you're certain of who you're giving it to

But sometimes, Watts said the “grandparent scam” is so effective that the scammer will turn the phone over to another scam artist — someone pretending to be a doctor, police officer or someone with authority — and use that as a tool to help walk the grandparent through the process of sending money.

Typically, Watts said the scammer will ask the person to do one of two things.

Most often, they'll ask the grandparent to wire money, usually over an international border. Compared to a method such as Interac e-Transfer, recovering money from a wire transfer is nearly impossible.

If they don't ask for a wire transfer, the scammer might ask the grandparent to send them gift cards, typically prepaid Mastercard and Visa cards.

Other “old-school” methods, according to Watts, include having a “friend” pick up the money at the grandparent's residence.

“What you don't see is a valid bank transfer or something like that,” said Watts.

People should also be aware of other scams that are currently rampant. Since it's tax season, Watts said some scammers will call and pretend to be Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) workers asking for personal information.

If a person receives a call from the CRA, they should verify the caller's identity by asking for their name, phone number and office location. If possible, they should also verify the phone number that called them on the CRA's website.

If the caller can't provide those details or if they're pressuring the person to act quickly, then it's safe to be suspicious of the call.

“Also, we're seeing the scam artists combine the tax season with eligibility for things like CERB or pandemic benefits or something like that, and they get you to click on something,” Watts said. “More and more, they're doing it to your telephone, but they will do it on an email, as well.”

In terms of email scams, she said many scammers are able to easily — and quite convincingly — replicate official logos and emails templates.

Watts said the first thing a person should do when questioning an email's validity is to check the email address it was sent from. If it's a scammer, the email address won't be official. It could include the name of a bank or the CRA, but it'll end with a common email — such as Gmail or Yahoo Mail — address.

Instead of responding directly to an email, people who are concerned about accidentally clicking on fraudulent email links should call or visit the institution.

According to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, there have been 5,569 reports of fraud in 2022 as of Monday, January 31. At least $34 million across Canada has been lost to fraud so far this year.

To report a scam, people should visit the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre's website or call 1-888-495-8501. Anyone who thinks they've been the victim of fraud should also contact their local police service, financial institution and credit reporting agencies.

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