Watch Out: These 5 Scams Are Targeting Seniors

Fraud’s on the rise in Canada – let’s keep an eye out for these signs. 

Vikram Barhat 21 January, 2022 | 4:28AM
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Financial fraudsters have long preyed on the elderly, but modern advances may have compounded opportunities for such criminal pursuits. Technology has enabled a whole new breed of criminals to prey on who may not be web-savvy.

We’ve all heard stories about calls from “marketing companies” informing elderly citizens of their lucky draw prize – often a car or another big-ticket item – and instructing them to claim their bounty by paying “the HST”.

We need to watch out for our fellow senior citizens are often the most vulnerable targets of organized financial scams. Scammers go after seniors because they know that many older people have money saved up and some of them aren’t that well-versed with the latest online schemes.

There are many other ways scam artists are robbing seniors of their retirement savings. More recently, people have lost millions of dollars to COVID-19 related frauds.

Some of the unsuspecting recipients oblige by sending the money but nothing ever shows up. They later discover they had been a victim of a seniors’ fraud perpetrated against the elderly.

Victims often don't know they have been defrauded until it's too late. Greater awareness of these crimes is the best way to guard against them.

Here are 5 common scams making the rounds:

You've Hit the Jackpot!

Remember getting that email informing you you've won millions of dollars from a lottery ticket or contest? Or how about those emails offering you hefty compensation in exchange for your help in recovering large sums of money from an overseas bank? Some of the more trusting, or less tech-savvy, seniors may not realize that these are online scams designed to gain their confidential information as soon as they hit an embedded link or respond to the email.

Online frauds like these have increased significantly as more seniors become digitally connected. The bad guys pose as a real company or a real person in an email targeting those among the ageing population that are connected online.

What to do: Ignore unsolicited messages. Never conduct financial transactions on a website with only 'http' in its address. Secured sites have 'https' and a lock icon before it.

We Accept All Major Cards…

Some seniors could be vulnerable to seemingly harmless requests for personal information disguised as promotions or surveys. The RCMP guide to seniors' safety specifically asks seniors to avoid any calls that ask for credit card information. More technologically advanced criminals could steal your card data by secretly attaching a device to the ATM card slot. They may then use your data to make telephone or online purchases, or make a counterfeit card and clean out your retirement savings.

What to do: When paying by card, never let it out of sight, and shield your card when you enter your PIN. Also, a less-than-perfect memory isn't a good enough reason for writing down the PIN. Choose a PIN you can memorize easily. Make photocopies of your cards and keep them in a safe place. Report lost or stolen cards to your financial institution immediately.

Digital Doppelgangers

Identity theft tops the list of senior frauds. And those who are socially active online may be at particular risk of oversharing personal information. The thieves are trawling social media sites collecting personal identification data. Some will try to steal details of your bank account, driver's license, Social Insurance Number and other personal information by going through your garbage and mail. Next, they will use that information to apply for a credit card or take out a loan or a mortgage in your name, or withdraw your bank funds.

What to do: Use a cross-cut shredder – it cuts paper into shreds much shorter than paper length – for all personal and financial documents. If your wallet is lost or stolen, or mail you are expecting goes missing, report it right away to your financial institution and credit agency.

The Milking of Human Kindness

Charity scams feed on our generosity. Seniors who donate to charities, and are frequently targeted via emails, unsolicited text messages and phone calls by fake, but familiar-sounding, charities. Some of these callers may tempt you by offering to provide charity receipts for amounts greater than you've donated so you could claim large tax credits. Don't take the bait: you'll lose your money and your tax credit claims will be declined by the CRA.

What to do: The RCMP website says to always ask the solicitor for the registered charitable tax number and verify its authenticity. Question any discrepancies and never make cash donations. Consult the list of charities recognized by the CRA.

Does this Ring a Bell?

Then there are many elaborate scams designed to exploit the financial insecurities of the elderly.Invest in this start-up and watch your retirement savings grow tenfold. Or buy this product and earn thousands of dollars by becoming part of a mathematically impossible chain-referral Pyramid scheme. Some unsuspecting seniors, out of loneliness or longing for company, may entertain such invitations without realizing these proposals are Ponzi schemes and franchise frauds. Popularly known "Advance Fee Schemes,” these rackets involve swindlers trying to convince seniors to fork over money in advance of providing them “goods and services”.

A promise of oversized gains for a small investment and no effort should immediately raise red flags.

What to do: There's no such thing as a free lunch. If an offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Never be pressured into snap decisions.

Victims of some of these common scams may never get their money back. However, you could take these precautions to avoid falling prey to financial fraud in the first place. And if you ever suspect you’re a victim, don't let fear or shame keep you from reporting it promptly. That may be your best chance of recovering your losses.

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About Author

Vikram Barhat

Vikram Barhat  A Toronto-based financial writer specializing in investing, stock markets, personal finance and other areas of the financial services industry, Vikram also writes for CNBC, BBC, The Globe and Mail, and Toronto Star.

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