Rights & Money

Criminals Scamming Seniors Get Shut Down

More than a million victims lost money. Learn how to protect yourself


By Katrina Caruso


In the largest-ever coordinated move against elder fraud, the US Department of Justice recently conducted a series of raids and charged more than 250 people internationally with scamming more than a million US citizens, most of them seniors, out of more than $500 million. The raids included search warrants executed in Vancouver.

In a statement, US Attorney General Jeff Sessions said, “Today’s actions send a clear message: we will hold perpetrators of elder fraud schemes accountable wherever they are. Today is only the beginning.”

Among the scams identified in the sweep were lottery scams (callers talk seniors into paying a fee or tax to receive winnings that don’t exist), grandparent scams (callers pretend to be a grandchild in trouble and needing money), and tax scams (callers pretend to be from the government and demand payment of taxes “owed”). Canadian and American researchers who conducted a large-scale study of elder financial fraud found that 1 in 18 US seniors—over 5%—fall prey to such scams every year, according to a study published last summer in the American Journal of Public Health.

Here are a few tips and tells for keeping the scammers away and your personal information safe:
– You can’t win a prize if you never signed up for anything or bought a lottery ticket. This extends to any kind of communication in which you are contacted out of the blue. Your bank won’t be calling you for information regarding a service you never asked for, for example.
– Be suspicious if you’re asked to follow a series of steps, especially if someone is asking a lot of personal questions, including anything to do with banking or personal information, such as your birthday or Social Insurance Number. Your bank will never ask you for passwords or PIN numbers—this is a sure sign that something fishy is happening. The bank will also never ask you over the phone to transfer money to a new account.
– If you’re contacted by phone, ask a lot of questions. If you’re feel unsafe, hang up. Don’t be pressured: if you don’t have a lot of time to talk and suspect the call is legitimate and want to be sure, ask the caller for a phone number and name so you can call back. If you do call back, do it when you have time, so you aren’t rushed through the conversation. Check the number online beforehand to see that it matches your bank or other services you use; if it doesn’t, don’t call back.

This isn’t a comprehensive list, and it’s important to be aware of the kinds of scams out there. For more information, check out the RCMP’s webpage on scams and fraud and the US National Council on Aging’s list of common scams.


Photo: iStock