Fraud is the number one crime against older Canadians – hitting as many as one in five seniors – according to bankrate.com.

People over the age of 65 are especially vulnerable to fraudulent schemes for a number of reasons:

  • They often live alone and are home most of the day to answer the phone and the door.
  • They have excellent credit, have more disposable income, and often keep large sums of cash around the house.  My mother-in-law kept a pile of cash “hidden” under a place mat on her kitchen table.  My mother kept her “secret stash” in the linen closet.
  • They are generally more trusting, and often lonely.  Con artists must gain the trust of the victim.  He or she will be friendly, helpful and appear to have the victim’s best interest at heart.  When you have a lonely person and somebody with a big friendly smile at the door, there’s a bit of a bond formed immediately.

Related: 4 Big Rip-Off’s To Watch Out For

A widowed senior living alone is most likely to be targeted.

Here are some common scams that target seniors:

Telephone scams

You should be concerned if your elderly parent receives lots of telephone sales calls.  Scammers know senior citizens answer the phone and are reluctant to hang up on anyone.

  • Recently, seniors were blasted with robocalls claiming they were eligible to receive a free medical alert system.  Once the target agreed to receive the device they were transferred to an operator who took their billing information and immediately began charging them.
  • “Hi, Grandma.  This is your favourite grandson.”  This scammer claims to be in trouble with the law or in an accident and needs money wired immediately.  “And, please don’t tell Mom.”
  • Henry received a phone call telling him he won a free trip and explaining all the exciting details.  The caller told him he needed to pay a small fee in order to claim the prize.  Henry knew not to give his credit card information to a stranger on the phone, so he hung up.

Related: Why I Cancelled My Landline

It’s in the mail

Check to see if your parents’ mail is filled with free gift offers, sweepstakes notifications and charity solicitations.  Also be aware that some organizations are perfectly legitimate, but once donors have proven to be receptive, they will be inundated with solicitations.

My father donates to cancer research.  He receives at least one or two requests a month from various cancer organizations – from his home town, Vancouver, Ottawa, Toronto, Edmonton and Halifax, etc – all wanting donations.

The knock on the door

Home renovation fraud.  Someone who claims to be a contractor working in the area approaches the homeowner.  They have noticed their chimney bricks are decaying/driveway needs repair/roof is in bad condition.  They advise that they have some extra material on hand and can give a special deal or senior’s discount.  The senior then hands over cash or a large cheque to cover the supplies.  The contractor leaves and is never seen again.

Public utility imposter.  The scammer claims to be doing inspections for water quality or gas leaks.  There are at least two versions of this scam. In one, a phony metre is used to show impure water, or a faulty connection, or some other irregularity. The danger of the situation is emphasized and an offer is made to remedy it – for an immediate large payment.

In the other scam, while the homeowner is showing the imposter the metre, his companion will search the home for valuables, medication and/or personal information.

Fraudulent investment and real estate schemes

With people living longer and traditional “safe” investments paying measly returns, many seniors are worried about outliving their money.  This makes them especially vulnerable to investment schemes that promise high returns.

Trusted people

The most unscrupulous crooks are ones in a position of trust – children who deplete bank accounts, caregivers who take cash and valuables and “helpful” friends who do errands and shopping while gathering personal information.

  • Vera gives her granddaughter, Caitlin, her bank card to withdraw $100.  Caitlin takes out $200 and keeps $100 for herself.  Vera doesn’t believe a relative could be dishonest.  It must be a bank error.

What can we do to protect Mom and Dad?

How do you talk to your parents without sounding like you’re their parent?  You can use the direct approach.  I’m constantly warning my mother against giving out personal information to strangers and not leaving her bank book and money laying around in plain view.

Related: How To Talk To Your Elderly Parents About Money

Those who don’t feel comfortable looking through their parents’ bank statements to see what cheques they are writing can be more subtle.

When you’re with your parents say something like. “I read an article about this happening to somebody,” or “I just got a phone call telling me I won a fabulous prize.  Do you ever get calls like that?”  Hopefully, the conversation can flow from there.

Final thoughts

Many frauds are not reported.  The victims are embarrassed at being deceived and don’t want to admit it.  They may not want to report a friend or relative, or they don’t even realize that they have been defrauded.

Tell parents not to worry about being impolite – hang up or shut the door.  If they are not sure, ask someone – call a family member, trusted friend or neighbour.

When two of my elderly banking clients were approached with the infamous “bank inspector” scam, they immediately called me and asked what they should do.

The best remedy is to keep trusted lines of communication open.


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