Seniors warned of ‘grandson’ telephone scam

A Victoria couple has lost $5,000 in a scam and is warning seniors not be sucked in to the next sad story they hear over the phone.

The man and woman, who have asked not to be identified, were taken in by what appeared to be a call from their grandson in dire need of help.

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“The guy sounded so much like our grandson. If he had said ‘Grandma,’ we’d have known [it wasn’t him] right away, but he said ‘Nan’ and so does my grandson,” said the Victoria man.

The imposter grandson, who used their grandson’s name, called on Monday and told them he had been driving a friend’s car and struck a vehicle with Quebec licence plates that had turned sharply in front of him.

The fake grandson went on to say he had been taken to jail, but a judge would free him if he could pay for the damage, estimated to be $5,000. The grandparents were told to send money to the car’s owner in Montreal.

“I wasn’t cluing in at all [that this was a scam], he sounded so much like our grandson,” the man said.

The dutiful grandparents then took cash from their bank and went to the Bank of Montreal and using an account number the scammer had provided via an accomplice posing as a lawyer, they sent money to a BMO branch in downtown Montreal.

“The kid said, ‘Please don’t tell Dad,’ ” the man said. It wasn’t until he later talked to his grandson that it became clear they had been scammed.

The couple has since been in touch with Victoria police and the Bank of Montreal, which they say has been very helpful.

“They are doing their best to try and get the money back,” said the man, who thinks the scammers “took a shot in the dark and got lucky.”

But according to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, it’s likely the scammers mined information like the grandson’s name from social media to make the pitch more convincing.

The centre calls these types of scams “the emergency scam.” It preys on the fear of a loved one being hurt or in trouble. The scammer claims to be someone you know and says they need money immediately. They tend to use scenarios like needing bail money because they’ve been arrested, or being in a car accident, or having trouble returning from a foreign country.

The targets are often seniors and the scammer pretends to be a grandchild, who begs them not to tell their parents that they’re in trouble, the Anti-Fraud Centre said. As a result, the grandparent doesn’t find out until after they’ve sent the money that their grandchild was not the person who asked for help.

Victoria police spokesman Const. Cam MacIntyre said scammers will go to any lengths to defraud a victim.

“They will pose as a family member, a trusted member of the public, or even the police. We strongly recommend that people never deposit money into accounts of people or entities they do know personally,” he said.

“It’s so important to verify where your money is going. Call a family member, a friend, or the police if you are suspicious.”

The Anti-Fraud Centre says there were 18,803 reports of fraud, and 6,671 victims reporting losses of $22.6 million in Canada in the first four months of this year.

MacIntyre suggests if you are in the process of providing financial information or sending money to potential fraudsters, stop immediately.

“Contact your financial institutions and ensure all payments that you have not authorized are stopped. Inform them of the fraud and change both passwords and access information,” he said.

Suspected frauds can be reported to Victoria police at 250-995-7654 and the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre at 1-888-495-8501.

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