Spike in ’emergency scams’ prompts law enforcement awareness campaign

“Fraudsters prey on our emotions and our caring nature. By falsely claiming to be a loved one in trouble, scammers exploit our fears and defraud our seniors out of thousands of dollars every day across this province,” the OPP said in reporting the stagger amount of money lost to scams in 2022. Photo by Joshua Hoehne.

In response to a “significant increase” in emergency/grandparents scams, the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP), Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC) and Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) are launching a fraud prevention campaign from February 6 to 10, 2023, to raise awareness about the scams targeting Canadian seniors. 

According to a release from the OPP, in 2022, the CAFC received fraud reports totalling a staggering $530 million in victim losses. This was nearly a 40 per cent increase from the losses in 2021, which totalled $380 million.

“Fraudsters prey on our emotions and our caring nature. By falsely claiming to be a loved one in trouble, scammers exploit our fears and defraud our seniors out of thousands of dollars every day across this province,” said Dominic Chong, Detective Superintendent, Director of Financial Crime Services, Anti-Rackets Branch & Serious Fraud Office, Ontario Provincial Police. “I encourage everyone to take a few minutes to educate themselves and the seniors in their family about grandparent scams. The best protection against this type of fraud is awareness and education.”

The OPP said that fraudsters target anyone and everyone, particularly the vulnerable and seniors. In 2022, more than $9.2 million was reported lost to emergency scams, according to the CAFC. This was a drastic increase from $2.4 million in 2021.

 Reports from residents indicate the five provinces most impacted in 2022 were:

  • Ontario – over $5.4 million in reported losses;
  • Alberta – over $1.1 million in reported losses;
  • Quebec – over $732,000 in reported losses;
  • British Columbia – over $322,000 in reported losses;
  • Manitoba – over $313,000 in reported losses.

It is estimated that only five to 10 per cent of victims report scams and fraud to the CAFC or law enforcement, according to the release.

In the release, the OPP outlined what an emergency scam is:

“Emergency scams, including variations called ‘grandparent scams’, use urgency and the manipulation of emotions to extort money from victims,” police said. “In these scams, fraudsters cold call seniors, on landline phones, claiming to be a grandchild, family member, law enforcement officer or lawyer calling on behalf of their loved one. They’ll say that the person’s loved one was involved in an emergency situation, such as a collision, charged by law enforcement, legal peril, being sick or injured, etc. They demand the senior provide payment immediately for supposed bail, legal fees, fines or other amounts ‘owed’ to stop the family member from going to jail or to get them released from custody. This is a scam.”

The OPP went on to say that the fraudsters isolate the victims by informing them that there is a court-imposed gag order, and they’re forbidden from discussing the matter. “The victims are directed to attend their financial institution to withdraw the requested amount in cash. The fraudsters will then send someone to pick it up from the victim’s home or have the victim send the money via courier services. There have also been reports of victims paying with cryptocurrency,” the OPP stated.

The OPP provided the following ways individuals can take action:

  • Join the RCMP, CAFC and OPP in raising awareness from February 6 to 10, 2023. The partners will be posting social media tips, bulletins, and various other resources.
  • On Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2023, at 1 p.m. the OPP and CAFC will be hosting a live chat to discuss emergency-grandparent scams alongside an attempted victim who will share their experience. You can view this live chat on the OPP’s Twitter and Facebook.
  • If you fall victim to fraud or know someone who has, contact your local police service to report the crime and also report it to the CAFC at 1-888-495-8501 or online on the Fraud Reporting System (FRS), even if a financial loss did not occur.
  • If you know a senior or have an elderly family member, please reach out to them and have a conversation on what to do if they get a phone call like this and consider coming up with a code word.

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