Senior couple using a tablet computer at a outdoor cafe

As Canada’s aging population continues to grow—according to Statistics Canada, it could reach upwards of 10.9 million people by 2036—so too does the vulnerability to financial fraud. (Shutterstock)

Canada | Fraud

Seniors too ashamed to report financial fraud, say experts

With more time on their hands and easy access to their finances, seniors are a prime target for fraudsters

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When it comes to reporting financial fraud to authorities, many seniors are too ashamed to do so.

Of the more than 71,000 mass marketing fraud complaints received in 2017—with a total reported dollar loss of than $110 million—it is believed fewer than 5 per cent of victims actually file a mass marketing fraud report, according to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC).

“Many people will never report. They are too embarrassed and think nothing can be done,” says Laura Tamblyn Watts, national director, law, policy and research for CARP, an advocacy organization for aging Canadians. “It’s about normalizing and dealing with the question of shame and worry.”

Other challenges in tracking these crimes include the complexity of networks and the ability to remain anonymous. Fraudsters share and sell databases of victims—called sucker lists—for targeted and repetitive use. “[Seniors] go onto these lists and are inundated with text messages, phone messages, people knocking on their doors,” explains Watts. “It doesn’t stay in the digital world. It gets resold with all forms of fraud. It’s a huge piece of it.”

As Canada’s aging population continues to grow—according to Statistics Canada, it could reach upwards of 10.9 million people by 2036—so too does the vulnerability to financial fraud.

“Many people don’t know their rights, so rights awareness has become a big thing.”

Our seniors are more engaged, active and online than ever before, using the Internet for day-to-day activities including banking, grocery delivery and online dating. According to a 2016?General Social Survey (GSS),?Canadians at Work and Home, Internet use from 2013-2016 rose from?65 per cent to?81 per cent amongst 65 to 74 year olds, and from 35 per cent to 50 per cent among those aged 75 and older.

“[We need to] change the social stigma and view around our older adults,” says Kavina Nagrani, estates and elder law lawyer and Canadian Network for Prevention of Elder Abuse (CNPEA) board member. “It’s the cliché saying, ‘Knowledge is power and spreading awareness is key.’”

Just like anyone with an online presence, personal details shared—including political stance, profession and family life—are used as bait for fraudsters, whose rings are more complex and challenging to crack than ever before.

According to CPA Canada’s Fraud Protection for Seniors webinar, seniors are targeted more frequently because they: are home, often alone, all day; may feel lonely, isolated and overly trusting; struggle with health issues; and have more readily available money. Fraudsters play off these vulnerabilities.

“Many people don’t know their rights, so rights awareness has become a big thing,” adds Nagrani. “There is a big focus on making sure there is a sense of community for older adults … bringing people together for continuous education and learning.”

The top three financial fraud scams—according to the same CPA webinar—include fraudulent services (contractors, door-to-door sales); prize pitches (such as telling them they’ve won the lottery); and the grandparent scam (such as, “Grandma, I’ve been held up at the border and need bail money”). Other fraud tactics include: romantic luring on dating sites; false extortion inquiries from the CRA, financial institutions or law enforcement; inheritance (fraudster poses as lawyer, or legal official, claiming you’re entitled to inheritance from a long lost relative, and requests personal info and associated fees); and phishing (asking for passwords, credit cards, personal info and so on).

From a reporting perspective, extortion, phishing and service tactics topped complaints, while romance, investment and prize topped the dollar value, according to the CAFC.

“Anyone who works with seniors can help us in the prevention of mass marketing fraud by staying up to date on the current scams and sharing that information with their networks,” says Lisanne Roy Beauchamp, call centre operations supervisor from the CAFC.

Despite the increase in frequency and complexity of the networks, there are ways to protect yourself, with many organizations, including CPA Canada and its financial literacy programs, working to better arm aging Canadians and prevent fraud from happening.

For fraud-related support

Fraud prevention tips

HOW TO AVOID BECOMING A VICTIM OF FRAUD:

1. Never provide personal details about yourself or family members on inbound phone calls, via text or email.

2. If a caller is requesting money, ask who is calling and document any information they tell you for reporting purposes.

3. Beware of counterfeit cheques or other types of fraudulent payment to cover fees such as tax payment, lawyer’s fees, custom charges.

4. Remember law enforcement, government bodies, judges and so on would never request payment by money service or gift card, or ask you to participate in sting operations, or internal investigations.

5. On dating sites, be wary of individuals who are too close, too soon, perhaps professing their love; say they live close by but work overseas; or request to borrow money (never send money or cash cheques).

6. Don’t pay money to get money! Lottery companies will never demand payments to release winnings, you cannot win a lottery from another country unless you have specifically attended that country and bought a ticket.

7. If you receive a phone call from someone claiming to be your family member or in touch with someone you know, confirm their whereabouts with family or friends.

WHAT TO DO IF YOU'RE A VICTIM OF FRAUD:

1. If you do share personal information, contact your financial institutions, Equifax and/or TransUnion to place a fraud alert on your accounts.

2. Stay on alert and remember that you will likely be targeted again in another fraudulent way.

3. Report details to your financial institution(s), the police and/or Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC).

—Source: CAFC’s Toolkit?for?March?Fraud?Prevention?Month?2018?Senior?Support