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Crime wave changes as grey tsunami washes over Vancouver Island

A different kind of crime wave is washing over some Vancouver Island communities, with door-to-door hustlers and online scams targeting seniors. Add to that scooter collisions and other vehicle mishaps, and police are finding that they have had to adapt to the growing concerns of the area's aging population.

As the so-called grey tsunami gains momentum across the country, the nature of crime is changing. Violent acts are dropping and incidents involving seniors are on the rise.

Vancouver Island has three of Canada's five oldest communities: Parksville, with a median age of 58.2 years; Sidney, median age 56.9; and North Saanich at 53.7; according to 2011 Statistics Canada data. Canada's median age is 40.6.

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At the Sidney/North Saanich RCMP detachment, not a day goes by when a bewildered senior doesn't come in to ask about an overseas letter pleading for money, a suspicious lottery win or an odd request from the Canada Revenue Agency.

"Scams are a big thing for us," said Corporal Erin Fraser, who's worked in Kelowna and Surrey. "There's a much higher incidence here than other communities."

In fact, an auxiliary constable from the detachment has produced a presentation that he delivers at the many seniors' residences in the area.

Ian Collis's PowerPoint presentation highlights identity theft and current scams including the latest in-person infraction where two men show up at a house claiming to be from a public utility. They gain entry, with one saying he'll check the meter while the other slips away to steal.

When police investigations shift from the home to the roads, Cpl. Fraser notes that Sidney and North Saanich record a lot of minor vehicle collisions as well as incidents involving motorized scooters. The total population of the two municipalities is 22,000, with 31 per cent of those age 65 and over.

Police often refer some of the senior drivers from the area to B.C.'s Motor Vehicle Branch for testing, a protocol that happens more frequently than in other jurisdictions, Cpl. Fraser said.

In May, an 83-year-old woman pleaded guilty to driving without due care and attention after her car hit and killed a man and injured six others at Victoria International Airport in Sidney last July.

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In Parksville, where 37 per cent of the 12,000 residents are 65 and over, Corporal Jesse Foreman of the Oceanside RCMP notes that his detachment has been on the lookout for door-to-door, home-improvement hustles and reckless drivers.

Major crimes are rare in the retirement locale.

Statistics Canada reports that in 2010, severe crime rates in Canada were 23-per-cent lower than the decade before.

"We're a very nice community with a low rate of crime," said Cpl. Foreman.

With the number of Canadian seniors at the highest rate in history – almost 5-million of the country's 34.6-million people – and forecast to grow as more boomers hit 65, a criminology professor speculates that violent crime overall will decrease for one reason.

"They'll be fewer young men," said Neil Boyd, who teaches at Simon Fraser University. "Crime is mostly a male problem."

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Mr. Boyd points to Canada's increase in crime from the mid-1960s to 1990, a time when the young male demographic was strong, with those same men now getting older.

What's ironic when it comes to crime is that young men are the least fearful but are the most likely to be victims of crime. Meanwhile, seniors are the most fearful but the least likely to be victimized, Mr. Boyd said.

While violent crime may drop, fraud could well take a leap.

"Baby boomers are generators of great wealth, with resources that can be drained. They will increasingly be targets for fraudsters," Mr. Boyd predicted.

One program to safeguard seniors could well be the way of the future. The Friendly Phone Service, operating in Port Alberni and other B.C. communities, uses volunteers to call seniors every day at a prescribed time. If the senior doesn't answer, a list of at least three local alternates are called and if none of them answer, the RCMP investigate, said Corporal Jen Allan with the Port Alberni detachment.

Beyond making sure seniors are alive, the service can be a sounding board for isolated individuals who may be victims of scams or elder abuse.

"Seniors are ripe for the picking," Cpl. Allan said.

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