by Lilianne Fuller
United Way reports that thirty percent of seniors live alone and are particularly vulnerable to becoming victims of a scam. Being starved for conversation, some people may allow anyone into their home who will talk to them. Similarly, on the telephone, if a person is lonely, they may engage in a conversation and may be convinced to give out private and sensitive information to someone who will take advantage of them.
Depending on the circumstances, even the savviest senior can be tricked. Today’s scammers are reinventing old scams and making up new ones as well. Sometimes because of a senior’s embarrassment at being duped it prevents them from reporting the crime.
There are things a senior can do to avoid being victimized by these fraudsters. Knowledge is power and being informed can help a senior avoid becoming a victim. Being alert that scammers can be very tricky and have many faces will help too. Here are some of the more common situations that have recently surfaced throughout Alberta.
Grandchild in trouble
The ‘grandchild in trouble’ scam is a particularly heartbreaking one. It’s very troubling to the police because it plays on a senior’s emotions and vulnerability.
Scammers know that seniors could have grandchildren scattered throughout Alberta, across Canada or even vacationing in foreign countries and it’s natural for seniors to want to help their family. And these pros know all the tricks!
This scam starts with a disturbing phone call from an alleged grandson or granddaughter who is in trouble. They’ve been arrested and need money for bail. They will beg their elderly grandparent not to contact their parents because they say they’re afraid to get into more trouble. When the senior agrees to help, they are given a telephone number to post bail. Once they make the call, someone pretending to be a lawyer or police officer will instruct them to send bail money using a money transfer or even online gift cards. Sometimes the amount they request can be in thousands of dollars. Canadian police report they do not contact individuals for bail money nor do they use money wire services or gift cards.
If this happens to you, the first thing to do is to try to keep calm and take your time. Ask for the name of the lawyer or police officer and write it down, but under no circumstances make that call. Instead, tell the caller you will comply and then, hang up. Next, call your children to determine the whereabouts of their children. Once you know that your family is safe, call the police and report the incident. You could be quite unnerved; if so tell them this when you report the incident. That way, the police can be prepared and along with an officer, they will be accompanied by a trained victim services worker.
Public utility inspector
Sometimes scammers will present themselves as public utility inspectors. In this case the homeowner will receive a knock on the front door and be confronted usually by two people. They identify themselves as inspectors for hydro or gas companies and they’ll request entry. Flashing an ID very quickly, once inside, one person will ask to be directed to the gas meter or the electrical panel and the other will ask to use a washroom or the telephone. While the senior is kept busy, there’s an opportunity for the crook to grab a purse, a wallet or even a bottle of medication. Sometimes they won’t take anything at all because instead, they’re casing the house for a future robbery.
This is a very intimidating situation and a person needs to be cautious and careful when answering the door. Always demand identification and ask the person to wait outside while you check it. If you have any doubt, close and lock the door immediately. Call the utility company to confirm the visit because if they are legitimate inspectors, they’ll wait. If they aren’t, they’ll leave in a big hurry.
Remember by keeping informed and by staying alert you can avoid falling prey to these wolves in sheep’s clothing.