Editorial: More action needed to thwart the rise in scam artists

There are serious penalties for committing fraud, particularly in the US which seems to take such crimes more seriously, especially mail fraud (defined as using the US Mail or any other state service to commit a fraud), but with near universal telephone services, the introduction of the internet as a means of communication and the accompanying explosive growth of social media, more needs to be done to combat those who prey upon the most vulnerable in society.

Governments have long had the tools to combat telephone scam artists, but have been reluctant to utilize them for any other means than to combat terrorism and espionage by foreign agents and entities. The technologies of Big Brother are very much in the here and now and it is perhaps past time that those tools are put to use to combat the growing evil that is the telephone scam artist.

Rarely a day goes by without a story of a well-meaning parent or grandparent being taken to the cleaners by a sophisticated group of racketeers preying on their concerns for the wellbeing of their children or grandchildren. Now, with the near universal membership of doting grandparents to social media sharing sites like Facebook, enterprising criminals have rich veins to mine in search of information with which to convince even the wariest of seniors of their veracity. It is long past time for the government to marshal resources to combat this scourge.

Privacy concerns and the inherent potential for misuse by the government or law enforcement are certainly real, but that potential currently exists and to pretend otherwise is specious at best. There are currently safeguards to protect against misuse of those surveillance tools, and greater measures can be taken (and probably should already be in place) in order to enhance such safeguards and protect the innocent from any overbearing government hand, but the incidence of fraud aimed primarily at seniors is escalating at the exponential speed of technological advance. 

Something needs to be done.

Law enforcement officials readily express the current futility of their efforts to hunt these odious criminals down. They have neither the resources nor the technical savvy required. Currently the only effective tool in the police arsenal are educational programs aimed at armouring seniors against the onslaught of scam artists.

This isn’t a small issue. Currently the economic hit from telephone and internet fraud easily rivals that of climate catastrophes, running into the tens of billions of dollars each and every year. Nobody knows the true extent of the impact of these crimes as so many of them go unreported, with victims staying silent due to embarrassment at being duped by what often, in the calmer analysis of hindsight, seem obvious deceptions.

There are so-called victimless crimes, but these are far from such. These scam artists focus on creating physic turmoil in their victims, often leaving victims shattered not only financially, but emotionally as well. When it comes to the Emergency Scam, anguish and fear over the fate of a loved one is the stock in trade of these monsters who stalk among us.

The government should create the same types of task forces that tackle organized crime gangs, for that is exactly what most of these rackets are, groups of people preying on honest and hardworking citizens.

While it is perhaps too chancy a concept to place the surveillance tools available to the so-called Five Eyes Alliance into the hands of every police officer, a number of flying squads of well vetted and well trained law enforcement officers focussed on tracking down and bringing these criminals to justice would soon make the scheme much less lucrative for the practitioners. Currently, there is, for all intents and purposes, little chance of these criminals being caught compared to the potential and very real payoff.

With the widely publicized arrest of some 30 low level members of a boiler room crew in India that preyed on Canadians one might think the crimes are mostly perpetrated far from our shores, but the truth is the most successful of these criminals are active and home grown.

It is long past time that something concrete and effective is done. This is a problem that has grown far beyond the limits of what is safe to ignore.