Police warn emotional extortion ’emergency/grandparent’ scam reports on the rise in eastern Ontario

As reports of the ’emergency/grandparent’ scam have increased throughout eastern Ontario, the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) and Kingston Police are reminding citizens once again to not fall victim to this fraudulent scheme that involves emotional extortion.

OPP detachments from across the East Region are warning the public that there has been an increase in reports of this scam, in which scammers target vulnerable persons and seniors by playing upon their emotions and fear of a loved one being hurt or in trouble.

Both Kingston Police and OPP have released previous warnings of this scam, including details on an arrest made in Toronto reportedly connected with the on-going telephone scam.

“In the typical emergency scam, the victim will receive a frantic phone call from someone claiming to be a grandchild or loved one,” OPP said in a media release. “The caller will explain that they are involved in some sort of mishap like a car accident or are having trouble returning from a foreign country and need money right away. The scammer will often insist that the victim does not tell anyone.”

Kingston Police also alerted the public to increased reports of this scam, noting that in their experience the scammer requests bail money, and will often send a ‘bailiff’ to pick up the money once the target has withdrawn the cash from their bank.

“A legitimate courier company is then contacted by the suspect and hired to pick up a parcel from the victim, who has been instructed to place the cash in a shoe box,” Kingston Police said. “The courier then unknowingly facilitates the scam by transporting the money to a different location, where it is retrieved by someone involved in the scam.”

In a media release, Kingston Police remind the public that cash is never requested for bail, and said individuals should never send money by courier; and never send money to someone you do not know and trust.

Protect yourself by reviewing the following guidelines, provided by Kingston Police:

  • Verify the caller’s identity by asking questions that someone else is unlikely to be able to answer, for example the name of the family’s first pet.
  • Tell the caller you will call them right back, then call your grandchild’s usual phone number to verify the story.
  • If your grandchild can’t be reached, contact a family member or friend to check out the story. Remember, scammers will plead with you to keep the emergency a secret so you won’t confirm the story.
  • If you speak to someone who claims to be a police officer, call the relevant law enforcement agency to verify the person’s identity and any information they’ve given you.
  • Don’t trust caller ID or answer calls from unknown numbers. If you recognize the caller ID but the call seems suspicious, hang up the phone.
  • Don’t give out your personal information unless you are certain the person and reason is legitimate.  
  • Don’t send cash, wire money, or provide numbers from gift cards. Scammers might pressure you to use those methods since they are difficult to trace.
  • Be cautious about what you are sharing on social media. Consider only connecting with people you know and check your privacy settings for all your social media and online accounts.
  • Avoid clicking on links or opening attachments in unsolicited emails. Be cautious even with an email that looks familiar; it could be fake. Instead, delete the email if it looks unfamiliar and block the sender.

Be careful what you post online, OPP echoed. According to their release, scammers can use details shared on social media platforms and dating sites, and can search online accounts to find real names, real interests, real phone numbers and when individuals are going to be home or away.  

OPP provided the following warning signs:

  • Urgency— The scammer always makes the request sound very urgent, which may cause the victim to not verify the story.
  • Fear— The scammer plays on the victim’s emotions by generating a sense of fear. For instance they may say, “I am scared and I need help from you.”
  • Secrecy— The scammer pleads with the victim not to tell anyone about the situation, such as, “Please don’t tell Dad, he would be so mad.” 
  • Request for Money — Money can be requested by money transfer or in some cases the scammer sends someone to your home to pick up the payment.

To avoid becoming a victim, OPP recommend checking with another family member or trusted friend to verify the information BEFORE sending money or providing credit card information by phone or e-mail.

If you or someone you know may have been the victim of an ’emergency’ scam, contact the OPP at 1-888-310-1122 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477 (TIPS). Information can also be reported to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC) at www.antifraudcentre-centreantifraude.ca.

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