Telephone fraud artists prey on seniors

As there is no limit to human imagination, there is no limit to the forms fraud can take, experts say. And it can happen to anyone.

Recently, The Senior Times received an email that seemed to come from Gemma Raeburn, a business professional and community leader we had written about in the past. At first glance, the telephone number at the bottom of the page seemed authentic, but the message did not.

“Hope you get this on time,” the message began. It said her purse had been stolen and she was stuck in London and needed money urgently. The bank could not send money for five days, but would we be so kind as to send emergency funds via Western Union transfer?

Our first impulse was to help. But because we had written about this particular form of fraud before, we knew to be cautious.

Upon dialing the number in the email, we discovered one digit was wrong. A quick phone call to the correct number revealed what we suspected: Gemma’s email account had been hacked, and this fraudulent message was sent to everyone in her address book.

“I had to change my email address and I have lost all my contacts,” Gemma said.

Fraudsters prey on the kindness of seniors, said Constable Peter Mandelos, community officer at Station 11 in N.D.G. Recently, Montreal West residents received calls requesting donations for a fictitious Montreal West Handicapped Association.

Sometimes callers will strike when you are in an emotionally vulnerable position, after a death in the family. They read obituaries in local newspapers and call victims by name.

“They will call you and introduce themselves as a friend of the family. They tell their victims a family member is in trouble or in the hospital and they need some money.

“Some will come by and collect, others will offer to meet you at the bank. I dealt with one woman in N.D.G. who went to Western Union four or five times before she called other members of her family. She lost over $40,000.”

Mandelos suggests that anytime you get a suspicious telephone call, do research right away, even if they seem familiar or know your name. “Use your head before you use your heart,” Mandelos says. Watch what personal information you divulge, including putting bills and junk mail in your recycling.

He advises potential victims to terminate a call if something doesn’t seem right, as fraudulent telemarketers prey on seniors who may be lonely and would like to chat.

“If you don’t know the person, just hang up. The longer they keep you on the line, the stronger the chances of your becoming a victim.”

Lottery scams are common as well, says Sgt. Jean-Marc Michaud of Sûreté Québec. “In Canada you don’t have to pay to receive your prize.”

Fraudsters used to work via telephone, but using the Internet, they can reach you from anywhere, Michaud said.

“When you receive an email and you don’t know who it’s from, just delete it. If you open it because you’re curious, no problem. But don’t click on any link that is sent in the email—that’s how you get into trouble.”

Fraudsters have perfected the art of cloning websites, Michaud said. Sites you seek out yourself are safe, but beware of the ones sent to you as a link, even if they seem identical to the real thing. He says equipping your computer with a firewall and antivirus protection is vital.

Michaud and Mandelos stress that reporting fraud—a largely unreported crime—is extremely important. If you have questions or think you may have been victimized, call the police, the Elder Abuse hotline at 514-489-2287 or Phonebusters at 1-888-495-8501.

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