Fraud ring bilked seniors, mainly in U.S. of $3-million

Halton Region police say they have broken a $3-million telephone fraud operation that preyed on seniors across North America.

OAKVILLE, Ont. — Halton Region police say they have broken a $3-million telephone fraud operation that preyed on seniors across North America.

Police say the scammers operated out of houses in the southern Ontario communities of Oakville and Mississauga.

Investigators say they determined the ring was targeting elderly victims using what is commonly known as the “Emergency Scam” or “Grandson Scam.”

The scam involves someone calling seniors posing as a grandchild, nephew or niece, claiming to need money for an emergency.

Police say the majority of victims they have identified are U.S. residents, although Canadians were also victimized.

Seven people are facing multiple fraud-related charges in a scheme police say bilked seniors out of $3 million since November.

The arrests were made on Sunday and Monday after investigators learned two of the suspects were planning to leave the country, police said Wednesday.

Halton police immediately contacted police in Montreal who detained two people until they could be returned to Ontario.

The ring was making an average of 200 calls per day, successfully targeting 15 to 20 victims and defrauding them of between $2,500 to $6,000 each, police allege.

“The Emergency Scam targets seniors, one of our most vulnerable populations, and cruelly plays upon their emotions to bilk them out of thousands of dollars,” said Halton police Chief Gary Crowell.

“To compound matters, it is estimated that less than five per cent of victims report this crime to police, because many of them feel embarrassed that they were tricked by these criminals,” Crowell said.

In many cases the fraudster, posing as a relative who is on vacation, tells the victim that they have been arrested by police and need money in order to be released from jail, police explained.

A second person will then talk to the victim, claiming to be a lawyer or police officer and give the victim instructions on how much money to send and where the money should be sent.

The scammer promises to pay the grandparent back as soon as they are out of trouble, and also pleads with the victim not to tell family members out of embarrassment or fear of getting into trouble with relatives.

By the time the grandparent speaks to a family member about the incident, and discovers that the story is false, the money has already been picked up by the fraudsters.

“There is a tremendous amount of investigative work yet to be done to determine exact details and the extent of the fraud,” Crowell said.

“Our investigators are confident they have completely shut down an organized criminal cell,” the chief said.

Seven Ontario residents face multiple charges, including participating in a criminal organization, conspiracy to defraud the public, fraud over $5,000 and impersonating a police officer.

Domenico Piccinini, 42, of Oakville, Fiona Badran, 31, of Oakville, Farid Hamdan, 26, of Mississauga, Wyatt Trottier, 26, of Mississauga, Jenny Pak, 30, of Richmond Hill, Daniel Campos, 27, of Mississauga and Ewelina Zapalski, 26, of Mississauga are to appear in Milton, Ont., court on Friday.