LITTLE CURRENT—Seniors and other interested parties are welcome to attend a series of elder-focused workshops on Wednesdays throughout February at the Little Current Public Library.
“Our first set of classes was based on the Government of Canada site of what they want seniors to know, with one being fraud and scams,” said facilitator Barb Baker after last Wednesday’s session on avoiding falling victim to scammers. The workshops began as technology instructions for seniors.
“We find technology is a double-edged sword for seniors. We want to get them out of the house and be social, and get them comfortable with technology because they’re being forced away from paper. Cheques are being put in the bank directly so we want to teach them to be comfortable with online banking, with the internet, or comfortable using the tablet their kids gave them for Christmas,” Ms. Baker said.
In the shady world of scam artists, devious miscreants are constantly thinking of new ways to swindle people out of their hard-earned money. Elderly people are especially vulnerable to savvy saboteurs who use modern technologies with which they may be less familiar.
This gives scammers an advantage because a senior may be more willing to do compromising actions since they may not realize the harm it can cause. Seniors also tend to have a significant amount of savings and are often generous or willing to help those who are seemingly in need.
“It’s okay to hang up on these people. If it’s too good to be true, it probably is. Seniors tend to be targeted mostly with these frauds,” said Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) Community Services Officer Marie Ford. She was present as the expert for the workshop, giving the police perspective on scams and frauds.
“The number one fraud among seniors is the romance scam. Seniors are targeted because they can be lonely and it’s nice to have some company. Once the relationship is established, the suspect moves in financially and, once they have been given money, disappear and no longer exist. It’s a difficult topic because a lot of the time, people are targeted by emotions, by kindness—those are difficult things to control sometimes,” said Constable Ford.
About 10 people attended the scam session to learn both about the types of scams that exist as well as ways to avoid becoming a victim. The group discussed vacation scams, such as promises of free trips or scammers determining who is away and robbing their homes; charity scams, as would happen if someone collected donations for a fake charity and pocketed the money; medical scams, like miracle cures or so-called breakthrough lab tests, including the potential risks of the popular DNA testing kits; and service and handyman scams, where someone will provide a shoddy or incomplete service at a price that’s too good to be true.
“I always tell people to slow things down, then you can think better. Scammers will try to move as fast as possible and take you off guard,” said Constable Ford.
The group also learned about warning signs of identity theft such as not receiving usual bills or receiving bills for services that they had not purchased. They then learned about appropriate steps to take, such as contacting the fraud departments of the two major credit bureaus, Equifax and TransUnion. It was clearly an overwhelming topic for some of the attendees.
“I’m going to go live in the bush!” exclaimed one woman with a chuckle, in response to the massive amount of things to consider and be aware of in order to stay safe. It can seem overwhelming, but staying safe online is not an impossible task, the facilitators said.
The workshop allowed participants to share their stories of scammer experiences so the others in the room could learn some of the techniques they used to stay safe. It can be a difficult topic to discuss because of the embarrassment associated with feeling duped by a scammer, but Constable Ford stressed the importance of at least reporting scams to police, even if they were not willing to discuss things publicly. This way, police forces can attempt to track down scammers and warn others of the techniques.
“That’s what we’re here for, this is our job. I’d rather you call and ask questions than you do what that other fellow did,” said Constable Ford, referencing the Manitoulin resident who lost $20,000 late last year to a fake family emergency scam.
One person, who shared their story with The Expositor on the condition of anonymity, said they were close to falling victim to a scammer.
“They made me believe they were calling from the credit card company and that somebody just took $600 from my card and sent it off to China. He wanted me to take my credit card, flip it over and call the number on the back, which I did,” they said.
“After I hung up, he called me back five minutes later and said he forgot to give me my ID number. He asked if I called the card company and I told him it was busy, so he said to press pound and dial again and I would bypass all that stuff. I realized afterwards that he didn’t hang up and was waiting until I punched in all the numbers.”
The scammer, posing as the credit card company, told them that they were conducting an investigation on an employee at the bank because several people had also had money taken from their accounts. He told them to go to their bank the next day and ask for a gentleman and an RCMP officer who were conducting the investigation.
At this point, the victim asked their partner to get out their cell phone and call the credit card company directly, who informed them that there had been no transactions of any sort. The scammer was prepared for that.
“He wanted me to get my computer out because he wanted to show me the transactions on my credit card bill,” they said. “Then he told me that the people at the bank wouldn’t be able to see the suspicious transactions because he had hidden them for the investigation.”
The scammer said he would be placing $1,500 into their account for the investigation, and that $600 of that would be theirs to cover the money they had allegedly lost already.
“I said, ‘I’m sorry, I’m so frustrated and upset right now, good bye.’ I hung up. All he got was my name, my address and my telephone number.”
The victim had followed several of the pieces of advice from police, especially slowing down the conversation. Speed is often a scammer’s most effective tool, as when faced with a sense of urgency, people often do not fully think out their actions. Still, they said this experience was surprising.
“I was so close. I thought I was smart enough to not be caught but there was a lot of chaos and confusion that day,” they said. “It can be done. As they said at the workshop, they are getting really smart.”
Other people at the workshop shared their near-scam stories, including someone who was selling an item worth thousands of dollars online and received what turned out to be a fraudulent cheque.
There was another person who almost fell for the “iTunes gift card scam,” where scammers request that the target purchase gift cards for the online music buying service iTunes, under a promise that they would pay the victim back. This individual was only saved when store clerks asked them why they were looking for gift cards in such high amounts and recognized that they were about to be ripped off.
Cathy Jeffery attended the workshop and said organizing personal files for fraud prevention and estate planning purposes can have extra benefits.
“They’re a good way of going through your old papers and seeing what you still need or can get rid of,” she said. Attendee Veronika Bingaman added that the library sponsoring the classes and offering them for free for seniors and residents is a benefit in itself.
“Some people have done the estate planning course twice because there’s just so much,” said Ms. Bingaman.
Ms. Baker offers many other workshops beyond scam and fraud prevention. Her sessions on estate planning and elder abuse are especially popular. These free public classes are funded through the Trillium fund and the federal New Horizons for Seniors program. Ms. Baker also offers paid classes privately at her wheelchair-accessible home.
The final workshop of the month, on February 27, will discuss understanding the privacy settings on social media platforms.
For more information on Ms. Baker’s classes, you can contact her at 705-368-3114 or barbara.baker@
If you suspect that you may be a victim of fraud or a scam, you are encouraged to contact the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre at 1-888-495-8501 or the Ontario Provincial Police at 1-888-310-1122.