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Thursday, June 13, 2024
No end to phone, text and door-to-door scams, experts say
More than $9.2 million was lost to grandparent scams in 2022. Supplied

First in a two-part series

With Fraud Prevention Month well under way across Canada, so are telephone, text message and door-to-door scams.

One scam in particular has been on the rise — the grandparent scam.

That’s when someone calls a senior on behalf of a loved one claiming to be a government official, family member, police officer or even a lawyer.

The scammers then scare the individual into giving money by saying the loved one is injured or needs help.

“They are targets because these are where scammers (and) fraudsters really think they have this opportunity, that seniors are more vulnerable,” Mary Shkoury from Elder Abuse Prevention Ontario told The Lake Report.

Her organization provides public education and awareness about elder abuse.

According to a news release from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, more than $9.2 million was lost to frauds like grandparent scams last year.

However, while vulnerable people like seniors in Niagara-on-the-Lake reportedly lost no money to fraudsters — there were multiple fraud attempts in NOTL.

In 2022, there were seven reported cases of telephone scams in Niagara-on-the-Lake involving people aged 60 and up, Jeff Horncastle, of the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre told The Lake Report.

And two NOTL seniors were victims of bank investigator and service fraud, though neither lost money, he said.

This could be an indication that seniors in NOTL are on their guard, considering reports to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre hit a historic high in 2022.

There was a total of $530 million in victim losses last year — almost a 40 per cent increase from 2021.

Shkoury is surprised at how little reported from Niagara-on-the-Lake given the aging population, however she thinks the real numbers are much higher.

This is because “only about 5 per cent of victims come forward,” she said.

Many scammers count on people not reporting, she added.

Const.​ Barry Ravenek of the Niagara Regional Police said five grandparent scam incidents were reported this year in the region, but none in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Aside from grandparent fraud, there are others that target seniors, such as romance and government-related scams.

As well, fraudsters have pretended to be police officers and targeted seniors for money.

There’s also another one going around that is worrying people, especially MPP Wayne Gates.

An increasing number of companies are offering people rebates for work or home services (like hydro, air-conditioners or water heaters), he said in an interview.

It can happen over the phone or right on your doorstep.

Anyone can fall victim, but “they seem to target seniors and new Canadians,” Gates said.

In 2022, 68 people were victims of such a door-to-door scam, Horncastle told The Lake Report.

More than $320,000 was lost.

There were no reported incidents in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

The sales associates promise the victims that they’ll save money, lock them into a contract that is hard to get out of, then never follow through on their promises.

“They really take advantage of seniors because obviously seniors are looking at maybe an opportunity to try to save some money,” Gates said.

Instead, it costs them more money in the long run.

“Some of these contracts go on for over 10 years, and seniors are sometimes paying three and four times what the cost of the product,” Gates said.

Simply Green and Ontario Green Savings are two companies that have allegedly taken advantage of vulnerable individuals like seniors. Both are on the consumer beware list with multiple charges.

“There have been over 400 complaints filed against Ontario Green Savings with Consumer Protection Ontario,” Gates’ constituency assistant Shannon Mitchell said in an email.

Next week: How to avoid becoming a victim of scammers.

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