Millions of dollars have been lost through the schemes of fraudsters who take advantage of trusting, isolated and vulnerable senior citizens, said guest speaker Patrick Harkness at the latest Jewish Seniors Alliance – Phyliss and Irving Snider Foundation Empowerment Series talk.
On Feb. 16, JSA, in partnership with Council of Senior Citizens Organizations of B.C. (COSCO) and L’Chaim Adult Day Centre, sponsored the program Frauds and Scams, which took place at the JSA offices at Mount Pleasant Community Centre. The program was accessible both in person and online, and about 50 people participated, the majority remotely. Its purpose was to investigate the ways in which fraudsters deceive people, especially seniors, in order to rob them of their money and possessions. The question was: what are the main types of scams, and how can people protect themselves?
Gyda Chud, coordinator of the JSA program committee, welcomed participants and introduced Barb Mikulec of COSCO, who introduced Harkness. Before he retired in 1999, Harkness worked for the provincial government in the department of safety and emergency preparedness. Now, he is a volunteer, one of many, who present workshops on topics important to the senior community through COSCO’s Seniors’ Health and Wellness Institute.
In his Empowerment Series talk, Harkness outlined some of the many types of scams perpetrated on seniors. The approaches can be made by phone, email, post and even in person, depending on the type of scam, he said. He warned that one should not respond to unfamiliar phone calls or email requests and one should not open any attachments included with these requests. He also advised people to never give out personal information or send money. If the information provided sounds too good to be true, he said, then, very likely, it is not true.
According to Harkness, here are some of the most common scams, and how to avoid them:
- Stealing photos from dating sites and engaging in a trusting relationship. Do not send money or photos, as the photos can be used to blackmail you.
- Emails or calls from the federal government indicating that you owe money and should forward it right away. Do not respond to the caller or emailer, and report the call/email to the police and to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.
- Purchases online are fake, unless you have ordered the item(s).
- Calls from people claiming they are Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) agents. Do not respond – call the CRA yourself (and not on the number you received the call from) to confirm if they really called you.
- Prize scams. Ignore them, as you cannot win a prize for a contest that you have not entered.
- Do not buy lottery tickets by phone.
- Don’t meet with people claiming to be bank investigators, who ask you to meet in a neutral place to give them money.
- Grandparent or nephew scam – claiming you must pay bail money to free the relative. They often have the person’s name. But still, don’t believe them. Check with the relative in question. You will likely find that they are fine.
- Offers to fix your computer. Don’t accept. Chances are, it is not broken. If it is, call an authorized repair person.
- Scams involving cheap prescription drugs. Never give those offering the items your credit card number.
- Charity scams. They may say it is, for example, for Ukrainian relief, but check whether this or any other charity that’s calling is a legitimate, reputable charity, and then donate directly.
- Home repair people may come to your door offering their services. Be sure to check with Better Business Bureau to make sure they are licensed and legitimate.
- Identity theft is very common and dangerous. Thieves may try to get your social insurance number (SIN) and other identifying information from old mail that you have thrown out. Shred all items that have such information on them before putting them into the recycling bin.
As well, do not carry around a lot of personal information with you or leave your purse or wallet unattended. Choose personal identification numbers (PINs) wisely, so they are not obvious: for example, do not use birthdates or family names.
If you do fall victim to a scam, report it immediately to the police and also to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC) at 1-888-495-8501. COSCO’s Seniors’ Health and Wellness Institute’s website has several resources on various topics, including frauds and scams: seniorshelpingseniors.ca.
Shanie Levin is a Jewish Seniors Alliance Life Governor. She is also on the editorial committee of Senior Linemagazine.