Millions of dollars are being stolen from Canadians in what’s been called the grandparent scam. Here’s how it works:
The scammer calls, pretending to be a grandchild who is in trouble. They may say they’ve been arrested and need bail money, or they’ve been in a car accident, or are having a problem returning from a foreign country. And they say they need money right away.
According to a notice issued by the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, the grandchild begs the grandparent not to tell their parents they’re in trouble. As a result, the grandparent doesn’t find out until after they’ve sent the money that it was not their grandchild.
Often the fraudulent grandchild is crying and talks only briefly before a phony police officer takes the phone and requests that the grandparent pay the bail. The scammer may request payment via wire transfer or even mailing cash. There have also been reports of fraudulent police officers or bail bondsmen going to the victim's home to collect cash in person.
The Anti-Fraud Centre calls these “emergency scams” because the scammers can claim to be any member of the family, not just grandparents, but they say that seniors and grandparents are particularly susceptible to these types of scams.
Millions of dollars scammed so far this year
The grandparent scam is resulting in big losses for older Canadians. According to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, cases of grandparent and emergency scams have more than doubled since last year. There have been 841 cases, with 342 victims reporting losses of $3.4 million from Jan. 1 to Aug. 31, 2022. That compares to 380 cases, 115 victims and $1.7 million lost in 2021. The scam isn’t limited to a single province or region. Here is a sampling of some headlines from around the country:
- Winnipeg police investigating 15 'grandparent scam' reports over last 6 days
- 80-year-old nearly scammed out of $16,000; West Vancouver police announce arrest
- Police warn of 'grandparent scams' in Quebec
The York Regional Police in Ontario have shared a video where an 81-year-old man tells the story of how he was scammed out of $100,000 by an imposter posing as his grandson.
If you receive a grandparent scam call
The Competition Bureau Canada offers these tips to anyone who might received a call from a scammer who claims to be a family member in trouble:
- Take time to verify the story. Scammers are counting on you wanting to quickly help your loved one in an emergency.
- Call the child’s parents or friends to find out about their whereabouts.
- Ask the person on the phone questions that only your loved one would be able to answer and verify their identity before taking steps to help.
- Never send money to anyone you don’t know and trust.
- Never give out any personal information to the caller.
How to prevent scam and spam calls
The best way to prevent a grandparent or emergency scam from reaching you or a loved one is to block the call before it reaches your device.
Individuals should check with their phone carrier to see if it offers network-level scam and spam protection. If not, they can download the Hiya mobile app.
Phone carriers can protect their customers from scam calls by adding Hiya Protect, which blocks fraud calls and labels spam calls with high accuracy, without blocking important calls.
Enterprises can help their customers feel safe answering the phone by adding Hiya Connect, which enables businesses to display their company name, logo and reason for the call on the recipient’s mobile phone.