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Complex scams are targeting seniors. These Montrealers want to stop them

Daphne Nahmiash knows first-hand that scammers are betting on their targets not stopping to think about what might really be going on.

She’s received calls from people impersonating someone else asking for money. And she says friends have fallen for some of these sophisticated scams that prey on the elderly.

The seniors’ rights advocate says when it comes to the well-being of their family, rational thinking fails.

“You’re not really so logical,” she said. “When people are calling you, you don’t really have the ability to stop to think clearly.”

These schemes include the so-called “grandparent scam,” where a senior receives a call or text messages saying a loved one is in desperate need of cash. They pretend to be a police officer, lawyer or even a younger family member.

As police and fraud-prevention experts see a rise in these kinds of scams, more resources are being created to help seniors spot them — and to break down any stigma around reporting the crime.

WATCH | What to do if you get a call demanding payment:

complex scams are targeting seniors these montrealers want to stop them

How to protect your loved ones from ‘grandparent scams’

2 days ago

Duration 1:43

Fraudsters are getting more sophisticated. Here are some tips on how to help your family members identify a potential scam.

Montreal police say fraudsters have become more sophisticated in recent years.

And Clive Olivier, an agent with the police service’s fraud department, says these people usually pressure potential victims to act quickly.

A man sits at a desk.
Clive Olivier with the Montreal police says a person’s bank account can be drained within minutes while they’re still speaking with a fraudster. (Chloë Ranaldi/CBC)

He says callers sometimes claim that accounts have already been compromised — and ask for a person’s credit card number to cancel the card, or for verification purposes.

Olivier says a fraudster might send someone else to pick up the card from the victim while they’re still on the call. Or the scammer might even drive the victim to their bank so that they withdraw cash, instructing them what to say at the branch.

He says seniors are especially vulnerable to these scams.

“We saw an increase in 2022. It more than doubled compared to the cases in 2021,” he said, adding they’re seeing similar numbers so far this year.

Reports of fraud to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre in Quebec.
In 2020, 667 reports were made for a total loss of just over $1 million in Quebec. So far this year, 623 reports were made for a total of $1.17 million lost. (CBC)

Data from the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre shows that the amount of money lost in Quebec has grown in recent years.

“If the fraudulent call is recent, we’ll try to get information,” said Olivier. “We will warn them if they call them back to call us immediately.… And we can get involved to try to catch them.”

He encourages victims to report the crime to police. But Nahmiash says many are hesitant to do so — even after losing the savings they’re depending on to live.

“It’s embarrassing to think it happened to you,” she said. “You do feel ashamed and feel terrible that you weren’t smart enough to say no or prevent it.”

Creating resources

The Cummings Centre is working to raise awareness about these schemes.

The non-profit organization that serves seniors in western Montreal has been getting requests from members for tools to spot the grandparent scam.

Since 2021, they’ve held seminars on grandparent scams and other misleading calls.

A woman stands in a hall.
Linda Shohet is a member of the social action committee at the Cummings Centre. (Chloë Ranaldi/CBC)

Linda Shohet, member of the centre’s social action committee, says their first virtual session had an “overwhelming” response, where nearly 700 people logged on.

Shohet wants people to know that they aren’t alone and scams could happen to anyone.

“Our main goal is to inform people,” she said. They want people to know what kinds of scams are out there, and “signals [to] look for and hear that say step back, hang up and ask questions.”

The centre is now developing seminars for the fall, based on demand and the most pressing concerns from its members.

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