Arrests made in grandparent scam targeting Ontario residents

(L to R) OPP Detective-Inspector Sean Chatland addresses the media on Thursday, Apr. 18, 2024, during the announcement of 14 arrests in Montreal in connection to the so-called ’emergency grandparent scam,’ which has targeted thousands of Ontarians. OPP Deputy Commissioner Marty Kearns and Deputy Director General of Criminal Investigations for the Sûrete du Québec Benoit Dubé look on. Photo via OPP.

Police have arrested 14 individuals linked to the emergency grandparent scam that targeted victims across Canada.

Readers will be familiar with the scam, as Kingstonist has reported many instances of the scam resurfacing in the past two years, including scams reported by the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) in Prince Edward County, the OPP in Lennox and Addington, and Kingston Police in the City of Kingston. In this scam, aimed at seniors with a landline telephone, criminals make fraudulent calls pretending to be a grandchild of the victim, or an official calling on the grandchild’s behalf. The reasons for calling vary, though most often asking for funds for bail, which are usually collected by couriers, who are often innocent of knowledge of the scam.

According to a release from the OPP, in September 2022, its Anti-Rackets Branch began an intelligence probe into a group involved in the fraud. In February 2023, the probe was formalized as an OPP Criminal Investigation Branch (CIB)-led joint forces operation (JFO), known as Project Sharp, and consisted of 11 Ontario and Quebec police services in total.

This group used the emergency grandparent scam by pretending to be an officer or lawyer, and claimed to have the victim’s grandchild or family member in custody.

“They would request bail money to secure the victim’s family member’s release. In most cases, ‘money mules’ (unsuspecting couriers) were used to collect the money. The victims were instructed not to speak to anyone due to a ‘gag order’ they said was in effect,” the OPP detailed.

Since February 2022, the group of suspects has been responsible for over $2.2 million in reported losses Canada-wide, the OPP reported. 

According to the release, from January 22, 2024, to April 8, 2024, there were 126 identified victims who lost approximately $739,000 to the organized crime group running the fraud. Of these 126 victims, 15 were re-victimized multiple times losing more than $243,000. The OPP said investigators have worked with financial institutions and the Canadian Bankers Association to prevent or recover more than $559,000 in losses.

“Though victims were located across Canada, the majority of the targeted individuals live in Ontario, with an age range of 46 to 95 years old. All of the victims were provided supports and fraud prevention material,” the OPP said.

As a result of the investigation, 14 individuals were arrested and 56 charges were laid. All arrested individuals reside in Quebec, despite the majority of the victims being in Ontario.

“Our dedicated officers tirelessly pursued justice in this complex investigation by working diligently to investigate, disrupt and dismantle the criminal organization targeting vulnerable individuals across the country. Frauds can cause significant emotional and financial distress to the victims, and our officers remain steadfast in their mission to safeguard our communities,” said OPP Deputy Commissioner Marty Kearns.

Project Sharp is a JFO led by the OPP and involves support from the Sûreté Du Québec, Halton Regional Police Service, York Regional Police, Toronto Police Service, Hamilton Police Service, Peel Regional Police, Durham Regional Police Service, Ottawa Police Service, Service de Police de la Ville de Montréal, Service de Police de Laval, and Criminal Intelligence Service Ontario. The OPP noted that additional assistance was provided by United States Homeland Security Investigations, Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada (FINTRAC) and the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.

“Project Sharp has disrupted the activities of a well-organized crime group using the grandparent scam that has affected numerous victims across Canada. The unity between law enforcement partners demonstrated our commitment to stopping these crimes and preventing further victimization. Cooperation and intelligence sharing were key to the success of this operation,” said Benoit Dubé, Deputy Director General of Criminal Investigations for the Sûrete du Québec

Anyone who suspects they have been the victim of the emergency grandparent scam or any fraud is urged to contact their local police, the OPP at 1-888-310-1122 or Crime Stoppers anonymously at 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or ontariocrimestoppers.ca. Reports can also be given to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre’s online reporting system or by phone at 1-888-495-8501. For resources on scams and fraud, visit antifraudcentre-centreantifraude.ca.

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