KINGSVILLE — As frauds go, it’s one of the “lowest of the low.”
A person posing as a police officer or court official calls a senior, saying a grandchild is in jail, often for a drug offence, and needs bail money.
They may also be told quick payment will be looked upon favourably at trial and result in a lighter sentence. Often they are told there is a gag order attached to the bail conditions and that the victim mustn’t discuss any of the details with relatives or their bank.
Const. Steve Duguay of Essex OPP said scammers do their research. He said they usually target victims with landlines because they are usually elderly and not computer or media savvy. Some fraudsters will even scan online obituaries to find a vulnerable victim who has just lost a spouse. The obituaries also list the names of children and grandchildren.
“They’re doing quite a bit of research on each of their victims. Whether they’re gathering information from the phone directory, with searches online through social media and gathering up family names, relative names and pulling together a story that hits home to the victim.”
Duguay said the scammer communicates a sense of urgency — that money must be paid as soon as possible to obtain the release of a grandchild.
Duguay said there was a recent case in Essex County where a scammer learned a grandchild was travelling in the southern United States, posing as a Georgia police officer and calling the grandparent for bail money.
And earlier this week, Essex OPP announced Amaryss D’Lynn Hall Tod, 25, of Windsor, was charged with what police call “grandparent” or emergency fraud.
Police say the victim was told to go the bank, withdraw a large sum of cash and wait at home for someone to pick up the supposed bail money.
Fortunately the grandparent told a relative who contacted the police. The money was handed over, but the suspect was filmed on a home security camera. She later turned herself in to police. No money has been recovered.
“We have her associated, maybe not on camera, but identified on four separate occasions,” Duguay said.
“If it wasn’t for the security camera we wouldn’t have been able to identify her.”
Tod is charged with four counts of fraud over $5,000.
Duguay said it’s not known whether the woman charged was operating alone or as part of a larger gang. The person who called the potential victim was male, posing as a lawyer, Duguay said.
“We don’t know if it’s orchestrated locally or if it’s broader … and more organized ….”
He said the telephone numbers of scammers are often difficult to trace.
“You can either block the number or you could be calling from a computer system that you can’t trace back to the original IP (address) of the computers. There are a lot of ways technology can be used to restrict tracing a call.”
Duguay said the scams target seniors who are “trusting, would give you the shirt off their back … it’s the lowest of the low.”
I would say organized crime is directly involved in … cyber crime and fraud. They can be domestic or global.”
Det. Const. John Armit, of the OPP Anti-Rackets Branch, said police forces often don’t have the manpower and resources to investigate scammers who use a host of computer and masking techniques to hide their identity.
He said the best method to combat fraud like the grandparent scam is to make the public more aware of the signs of a fraud.
March is Anti-Fraud Month and the OPP and its policing partners are publicizing the “tricks of the trade” used by scammers, with the goal of forewarning and forearming potential victims. “We want to get to the nitty-gritty of what sort of techniques they’re going to use to target you and how to prepare yourself for that.”
Armit said the targeted grandparent should hang up their phone. He said police officers, court officials and lawyers never call with requests for bail money.
Scammers can be persuasive and will use urgency, emotional manipulation and even threats to wear down the victim, he said.
Armit advised the targeted person to use delay to buy time and think about the legitimacy of a telephone request for money. They should call friends, family or the police.
A potential victim can also visit the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre website at https://www.antifraudcentre-centreantifraude.ca/index-eng.htm and read a list of past and current scams.
Armit, based in Ottawa, said these scams are committed by well-organized gangs — not one person.
“I would say organized crime is directly involved in … cyber crime and fraud. They can be domestic or global,” he said.
Armit said grandparent scams are not the only frauds targeting seniors. There are romance scams that prey on the lonely. There are scammers who tell victims they owe back taxes to Revenue Canada. And there are scams that trick seniors into signing a contract to purchase appliances, then follow up with someone posing as a lawyer calling and suggesting they break the contract — for a price. This scam, Armit said, can lead to a lien being placed on the victim’s home.
He said there are also investment frauds where victims are lured into purchasing bogus crypto currency.
Armit said fraudsters often use spoofing to pretend to represent a person, company or organization known to a potential victim. To add an air of authenticity, spoofers can change or alter their sender’s email address and their caller-ID so the scam attempt appears legitimate on the victim’s computer or phone. They can also produce fake websites that look genuine.
With emails, he advised hovering a mouse over the sender’s email and if a different email address appears, stop all communication.
“At the end of the day, all they want is your money,” Armit said.
Last year, Canadians lost $530 million to fraud, an increase over 2021 when $380 million was lost to fraudsters.
Armit said between five and ten per cent of all frauds are reported to police.