November 26, 2014

Police advise seniors to beware of scams

As published in The Erin Advocate

Last week, an email went out to a number of Erin residents from Town Councillor Josie Wintersinger. It said she had been injured in a car accident while on vacation in The Philippines and was desperate for assistance.

She was, of course, safe at home, but quite annoyed at being the victim of a hacker trying to trick people on her email contact list into sending money.

“I have no idea how it happened – I reported it to the police,” said Wintersinger, who was inundated with phone calls from people on the list. She has now changed a number of passwords, to reduce the risk of intrusion into her personal affairs.

“It caused a lot of concern, and one day of wasted time. Once they have your password, you’re in trouble, especially if you’ve used that same password for other things.”

It is called the Emergency Scam, or in cases where a senior is convinced to send money to help a grandchild in trouble, it is known as the Grandparent Scam. Since 2009, the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre has received 17,132 such complaints, with more than $24 million in reported losses. The average loss per victim was $3,743.

Also last week, Constable Dan MacDonald and Detective Constable Heidi Pautsch of the Guelph OPP were at the Erin Legion with a presentation for the Extended Leaning Opportunities (ELO) lecture series on the wide array of scams that criminals are cooking up to relieve citizens of their hard-earned cash.

“This is their full-time job – they are so sophisticated,” said MacDonald. “I’m sorry to scare you, but you have to be vigilant.”

He says people should reduce the amount of personal information available to identity thieves by shedding paper garbage, picking up their mail promptly and even ripping the labels off prescription medicine bottles. He also suggests that people avoid carrying their Social Insurance card in their wallets.

When you pay with a credit card, he says don’t use the swipe or tap options – these are less secure than using the card chip and PIN. Fraudsters now have devices that allow them to sit in a parking lot and electronically pick up credit card numbers and PINs from inside a store. The chip enhances security by scrambling your PIN number.

When emails from strangers make it through your spam filter and invite you to “Click Here”, don’t do it – unless you want to invite malicious software to mine your hard drive for personal information.

Seniors (who make up the majority of the ELO audience) are often targeted by phone or at their doorways by people who know they may be vulnerable.

“Seniors are trusting. They see the best in people, and they often have a nestegg of savings,” said Pautsch, urging people not to send money to anyone without confirming their identity through family members or independent sources. “Usually once the money is gone, it’s gone. We try, but it is really hard for us to get it back.”

Many of these criminals are operating out of other countries, using proxy phone numbers or computer IDs to make them appear local. Police urge people to be aware of common warning signs:

If the deal seems too good to be true, it’s usually not. If a stranger suddenly wants to be your friend, give you something for free, supply a prize for a contest you don’t recall entering or is applying pressure for a quick decision, it is time to bail out.

Never provide your Social Insurance Number (SIN), bank account numbers, credit card numbers or other personal information to callers you don’t know personally, or send those numbers to anyone by email.

Many scams require you to wire money up front, but others involve paying inflated prices or signing long-term contracts for things you may not need, such as paving, a new furnace or water heater, internet services or home renovations.

Pautsch described a case in Wellington County of a well-educated CEO of a company who “lacked romance” and met someone from another country though a dating website. After building up a relationship over a considerable time, this person started asking for increasingly large amounts of money. By the time the victim realized she had fallen in love with a falsely created “person” that she would never meet, she was out $30,000.

“She was very embarrassed and it was hard emotionally, but we couldn’t help her. We could not track this person,” Pautsch said.

The Bank Manager Scam is another trick that is aimed at seniors, with a caller who claims to be from the bank and needs a customer’s help to catch a teller who is stealing money. The senior is asked to withdraw about $5,000 in cash, put it in an envelope and turn it over to the “manager” in a nearby parking lot.

They are told to come in to the branch the next day for a meeting with the manager, which is when they discover it was a scam – one that works more than half the time, according to the Anti-Fraud Centre.

One last tip from the OPP: get a free credit report on yourself from one of Canada’s two credit bureaus (Equifax or TransUnion). Not only will you be able to correct any errors on your file, but also you can check for suspicious activity if someone is using your identity.

More information is available in the fraud prevention section at or at