Senior Safety, Part 1: Scams that Every Senior Must Know About


In this new world dominated by ever changing technology, are you 100% sure that you and your information are safe?

From fake callers claiming to be from the Canada Revenue Agency to banks requesting security information via text message, financial scams are on the rise, particularly those targeting seniors.

In fact, fraud against the elderly has become so prevalent that in 2004 Statistic Canada indicated that it is now considered “the crime of the 21st century.”  More recently, the Government of Canada stated, “fraud is the number one crime against older Canadians.”

During the September All Seniors Care Summer Camp, Laurel Heights Retirement Residence invited a representative from the Edmonton Police Service to give a Senior Safety presentation.  The talk was such a resounding success that we decided to share everything we learned with you!

In this first of two installments in the Senior Safety series, find out who is at the highest risk and all about some of the most common scams.  In the next post, we’ll delve into expert advice on how to protect yourself and what to do if you fall prey.

Fraud Basics

Fraudsters are real. They are out there every day looking for victims. They will target you online, over the phone, by mail or in person.

Scammers tend to target elderly people with all kinds of schemes, taking advantage of their isolation, ease of trust, higher savings, and lack of tech savvy, among other things. In many cases, they aren’t only targeted once, but they become repeat victims who get added to a “sucker list” that puts them in the sights of still other scammers.

According to Constable Mischa Semler and her colleagues at the Edmonton Police Service, “These scams are really effective because they prey on emotion – on fear – and a lack of knowledge”.

Risk Factors

Criminals and professional scammers are most likely to target seniors who:

  • Are lonely or emotionally vulnerable
  • Are not familiar with common scams and therefore are more susceptible
  • Do not ask for advice or input before making a purchase
  • Do not want to hang up on telemarketers or say ‘no’ to salespeople
  • Have diminished capacity for decision making
  • Own a home


Look Out for These Common Scams

While there are many different types of scams targeting seniors (and new ones being invented every day) there are a few basic types, ranging from the very simple to the more complex. Here are some commons scams targeting seniors:

Romance scams: Everyone wants to feel loved and needed. A scammer will take advantage of these basic needs by sending you messages and maybe even a good-looking photo of themselves … or of someone they claim to be. Once charmed, they will start asking that you send money. They may claim to have a very sick family member or a desperate situation with which they need your help. Once you give them money, they often disappear.

Grandparent or Emergency Calls.

Particularly painful for seniors, someone may call and say “Grandma/pa, I’m in jail or hospital”. Again, they play on emotions and ask for money.  Victims of this crime are told, “Don’t hang up. Don’t hang up or something bad will happen”.

Not every scam call is easy to spot. Scammers can work in groups. There are scam call centres that dedicate their time to tricking vulnerable people into believing they’re from legitimate organizations.

Some scammers know how to spoof numbers — this means that they can alter the Caller ID to match a local number. They could be calling from a country halfway across the world, but the display on your phone will make it seem like they’re from your neighbourhood. Take a look at this story of a woman who lost $14,000 to scammers after they tricked her into thinking she was paying for her grandson’s bail. They spoofed the number from the local police department so that she assumed she was talking to real authorities. 

Here are some tell-tale signs that you’re dealing with a scam call:

  • The caller is using aggressive or threatening language
  • The caller is trying to scare you with consequences like legal action or jail-time
  • The caller is asking for immediate financial compensation
  • The caller is asking for personal information (SIN, bank information, mother’s maiden name)

Phishing and smishing scams. You may get an unsolicited email (phishing) or text (smishing) asking that you provide or verify – either via email or by clicking on a web link – personal or financial information. This might be your credit card number, passwords, or social insurance number.

Beware:  Currently, phishing emails imitating popular companies such as Netflix, YouTube, and Shoppers Drug Mart are circulating.

Sometimes it’s hard to tell whether the email address is legit.  These messages copy the tone and logo of organizations you trust, and usually include a call to action. They take many shapes and forms, but the bottom line is that they seek your personal details.

Recovery pitch. This scam involves a person who has already lost money by way of fraud. Scammers will target these individuals with the claim that they will be able to recover money in the previous scheme. Sometimes the caller is the person who scammed the individual in the first place. The scam artist may claim to be a member of law enforcement or other type of authority to gain credibility.

Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) Calls. In this extremely common scam, someone may call claiming that you’re entitled to an extra refund and all you need to do is provide your banking details. Watch out—this wonderful-if-true situation is exactly what a tax scam looks like.

Another variation is that they call you to say that you owe the CRA money.  They say that you must pay right away, or else they will report you to the police.  You may be threatened with arrest or told that only way to avoid the charges is to provide some financial compensation.  Often, they don’t allow you to get off the phone or ask questions.

Immigrants may be threatened with deportation or having their citizenship revoked. The fraudsters play on a language barrier, or cultural experiences related to the role of police in society.

Social Media.  More and more senior citizens are using social media to connect with loved ones during Covid-19. And more of an on-line presence can make you more vulnerable.

More time = more likely to provide personal information or to be spending on-line.

Remember, anytime personal information is provided on-line, there is potential for exposure.  Be aware of who your contacts are and what information you’re giving away.  You may need to ask yourself, “who is this and why are they all of a sudden my best friend?”

Door-To-Door. Someone in uniform comes to check on something, sell something, or do maintenance. They often pressure you and prey on built in respect for a uniform.

Special Alert: Covid–19 Scams

It didn’t take scammers long to attempt to capitalize on the confusion and fear surrounding the novel corona virus. The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre has alerted people, particularly senior citizens, to be aware of several fraud schemes tied to the virus. Read about the most prevalent ones here.

All Seniors Care wants every all senior, whether they live in or outside of our communities, to always feel safe. Even when they pick up the phone and check their email. Tune in to Part 2 of “Senior Safety” for expert advice on how to protect yourself and what to do if you fall prey.

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