Seniors: Spot and stop frauds and scams

Last year several Canadians, including myself, received threatening calls from people claiming to be from Canadian Revenue Agency (CRA), aggressively asking them to return the call within 24 hours, to prevent legal action for tax evasion. Several of us received multiple calls both on our landline and cell phones. Many older adults returned the call only to inadvertently disclose personal information and end up losing their hard-earned money. They realized it was a new scam, a bit too late.

For scammers, older adults appear as easy, lucrative targets, for various reasons. Older individuals are generally law-abiding, disciplined, helpful, truthful, and generous. They have built a nest egg for retirement, or have property or other assets.

Many older adults get scammed every year; yet, the exact stats are not available. The victims seldom report scams, either because they do not want their family or friends to know that they have been scammed or because of lack of awareness about the resources available to them.

Scammers try to hunt down older individuals who are isolated and lonely. The scammer could pretend to be a distant grandchild, calling you because he or she has been robbed, is stranded somewhere, and wants you to send some money to their account immediately so that they can return home.

Alternatively, the scammer might call you and say that you have been randomly selected for a prize or a cruise or a trip, and then asks you to pay some money upfront to receive the prize. The offer is time-bound, and has to be accepted immediately. They might ask for your account number or other banking details.

In the last couple of years romance scams targeting single seniors have become wildly rampant. The source could be an online dating site, chat room, or matchmaking site. The victims are usually unmarried or widowed seniors, looking for friendship.

The scammer posts an attractive picture or a fake profile to attract lonely seniors, in whom they show a lot of interest. As the relationship develops, the fraudster convinces the senior to switch to a more personal form of communication (email or a private chat room). When a good rapport has been established, the scammer would ask for money, so that he/she can visit the senior or move to the same town. It is only after one or more money transactions that the victim realizes that he or she has been scammed.

What most Canadians probably don’t know — is that “romance fraud” is the number one scam in this country, surpassing identity theft, prize pitches and various telemarketing schemes. It costs victims $20 million a year, according to Superintendent David Bellamy of the RCMP.

The cost to the senior who has been scammed is much more that money; these scams cause grief, humiliation, and shame to the victims.

It is extremely important to be aware of these scams and develop a nose for sniffing out scams. Regardless of the story, some common themes exist- there is some money transaction involved, and it is always urgent.

If someone you have never met in person professes love to you, suspect scam. If you are asked to pay money by interact, prepaid credit cards, or gift cards, it is likely to be a scam.

If the offer sounds too good to be true and is coming from a stranger, it is most certainly a scam. So is the case if the caller threatens you with arrest or asks for your passport, driver’s license, or banking information.

All frauds and scams should be reported, even if you are embarrassed or feel the amount of money is too small to worry about. While you may not get your money back, you can help stop the fraudster from scamming other people.

Report all frauds and scams to your local police, or call Phone Busters at 1-888-495-8501. For more information check out these documents-: the Competition Bureau’s “Little Black Book of Scams”; the RCMP’s fraud alert webpage; the Canadian Antifraud Centre’s list of scams; the Insurance Bureau of Canada’s self-protection tips; Canada Banking Association’s fraud prevention page ( and the Government Of Canada’s fraud awareness bulletin- “What every older Canadian should know”.

Let us learn to spot and stop scams.

Padmaja Genesh, who holds a bachelor degree in medicine and surgery as well as a bachelor degree in Gerontology, has spent several years teaching and working with health care agencies. A past resident of Red Deer, and a past board member of Red Deer Golden Circle, she is now a Learning Specialist at the Alzheimer Society of Calgary. Please send your comments to

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