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Police warning about 'grandparent scam' active in Ottawa

Ottawa police say phone scammers often cry and use emotional factors to prey on well-meaning victims.
2018-12-12 ottawa police headquartersmv3
Ottawa Police Service headquarters. Mike Vlasveld/ OttawaMatters

The Ottawa Police Service (OPS) wants residents to be aware of a 'grandparent scam' that is active in the area. 

Police say the scenario usually involves a tearful phone call from someone claiming to be a family member in trouble with the law, and while people don't generally think they would fall for a scam, police say these fraudsters are incredibly convincing.

"Their crying will make it difficult to understand what they are saying or to recognize the voice in order to get you to fill in the blanks as to who they are," warns OPS Sgt. Chantal Arsenault, investigator with the Organized Fraud Unit. "They are counting on the emotional factor to let down your guard. These aren't simple tricks people are falling for, they are complex, well-planned scams."

Sgt. Arsenault says the caller will often say they have been arrested and ask for money or gift cards for their bail, and that there is always an urgency to the situation.

"That's to prevent you from thinking too much about what they are asking you to do. The scam works because the vast majority of people are honest and willing to help, particularly if it involves a loved one."

However, Arseneault says Canada's legal system doesn't work that way. 

"Bail Hearing in Canada takes place in court and does not necessarily involve money. If there is a financial penalty involved, it is not paid up front and definitely not by pre-paid gift cards or via transfer to someone's bank account."

If you get a call like this, police say to do the following:

  • Never confirm any personal information over the phone.
  • Always verify who is calling. If it is a family member as they claim, tell them you will call them back and use the number you have for this person. Don't use a number given by the caller. Use 411 or the Internet to get the phone number if you don't have it.
  • Don't be pressured. Take some time to process what you have been told, to see if it makes sense. Ask a trusted friend or family member for their opinion, or if in doubt, call your local police service.
  • Make sure you, and elderly family members or friends, are aware of current scams and how they work. You can get information from the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.
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