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Keep on top of senior scams, for grandma’s sake

Scammers are inventive, ingenious, constantly adapting to new technologies and human vulnerabilities – and preying on older Canadians.

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All Canadians are susceptible to scams, but fraud affects seniors in disproportionately high numbers. According to the government of Canada, fraud is the No. 1 crime against older Canadians.

I remember answering a call early in my home-care business from a woman I will call Doris. Doris was looking for foot care, which we do not offer. I know of a reputable mobile foot-care company, so I said "Doris, I can give you their number – do you have a pen?" And Doris replied, "Why don't you just take down my address and Visa number and you can just send them over."

I paused, shocked. "Doris! Please don't ever give out your address and Visa number to someone you don't know," I said. Doris was insistent: "You seem like a trustworthy young lady; just let me give you the information."

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I convinced Doris to take the number and make the call herself. As I did, I thought about how much trust in authority Doris's generation has and how easy it would be to take advantage of that trust. Unfortunately, not everyone is trustworthy.

The best way to prevent people from victimizing the seniors in your life is to educate yourself and your loved ones. To start, here are some common scams that target seniors that you can discuss as a family:

Lottery, sweepstakes and contest scams

Lottery scams work by sending victims personalized material that outlines the high-value prizes that they've won. The catch? "Winners" have to pay a small tax to claim their prize, or hand over their banking information so the prize can be deposited directly. There is no prize and the scammer now has hold of valuable personal information or the prize-claiming fee. Remember, if you didn't enter, you didn't win.

Grandparent or emergency scam

This one is devious. Scammers pose as a grandchild and call or e-mail seniors to say they are in trouble with the law, have been in an accident, or that they are having trouble while travelling in a foreign country. Sometimes, a second scammer will call and pose as a lawyer, a doctor or an immigration agent to corroborate the story. Scammers then demand an emergency money transfer to resolve the situation. These scams prey on grandparents' love and concern for their grandchildren. The heightened excitement of a time-sensitive emergency helps to override any valid doubts.

CRA scams

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These are especially prevalent around tax time. Scammers pose as Canada Revenue Agency employees and inform the victim of an outstanding balance that must be paid immediately. Or, they demand social-insurance numbers, credit-card numbers or other personal information. The CRA will never ask for personal information by text or e-mail. Nor will they leave personal information on answering machines or send a link where personal information can be divulged. If someone you think is from the CRA contacts you or your elder loved one, visit My Service Canada before divulging any sensitive information, or call CRA directly.

The above scams may not be the only ones you or your loved ones come across. Here are some general tips that will help seniors avoid being victims of fraud.

  • Protect personal documents. Keep them in a secure location and do not carry your birth certificate, passport or SIN card unless it is necessary;
  • Never give anyone your banking PIN and protect your code when using ATM’s and using debit or credit cards to make purchases;
  • Buy a shredder and shred all old bills and anything that contains sensitive or identifying information;
  • Do not click on e-mails or links from people you do not know;
  • Never give out payment or banking information in a phone call or Internet communication that you did not initiate;
  • Do not be bullied or rushed by “limited time offers.” If someone makes you an offer, give yourself time to think about it or talk it over with someone whose judgment you trust. If you are being pressured to buy, sign or give over your information, it is best to walk away;
  • If someone comes to your door and offers to provide a service or do work on your home, ask for identification and references.

Finally, if you or a loved one has been the victim or target of fraud, report it. The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre estimates fewer than 5 per cent of frauds are ever reported.

Scammers are inventive, ingenious and constantly adapting to new technologies and human vulnerabilities. Cut or print out this article and sit down with the seniors in your life and start a discussion about fraud. Ask, "Have you ever been contacted with an offer like this?" Fraud, like shame, thrives in darkness and silence. Open, honest communication and education are our best defence. Have the fraud conversation with your loved ones today.

Renée Henriques is a registered nurse and the owner and managing director of ComForcare Home Care Toronto, providing personal support services to seniors.

Video: This senior has a rap about respect for the aged for you to hear
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