OPP: Emergency scam keeps catching victims

The OPP is warning telephone and emails continue to be great tools for con artists to defraud seniors and the vulnerable for hundreds or thousands of dollars.

Members of the OPP Anti-Rackets Branch say the “emergency scam” has been around for years but continues to wreak havoc in Ontario. They note seniors are often too nice for their own good and are hesitant to refuse someone on the phone – and that makes them easy targets for criminals.

In the emergency scenario, an elderly person receives a call or email from a con artist claiming to be a grandchild, a friend of the family, or a former neighbour. The caller or emailer indicates he is in trouble and needs money immediately.  Typically, scammers claim to have been in a car accident, or are having trouble returning from a foreign country, or they need money for bail.

The fraudster says they do not want other relatives to know what has happened, and often say “Don’t tell Dad.  He would be very upset with me if he found out. Please send the money quickly. I’m scared.”

Police said typically, victims do not verify the caller’s story until after the money is sent through a wire transfer service or by giving access to personal banking or credit card information.

In 2011, the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre – located in North Bay – received 3,309 complaints of criminals using the emergency scam” – sometimes referred to as the grandparent scam – in Canada. Of those, 462 were identified as victims with a loss of more than $2.5 million. Many more victims are reluctant to report the crime, either out of embarrassment or not knowing how.

Police advise people to first check with a family member or trusted friend before providing money or credit card information. They also note it is important the incident be reported every time it occurs, to allow police.

They suggest anyone who knows or suspects someone ha been a victim of an emergency  money transfer scam to contact the local police service or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477 (TIPS).

Deputy Commissioner Scott Tod of the OPP Investigations and Organized Crime division said, “Preying on the emotions of family members or friends by creating a falsely urgent or desperate situation contributes to an already long history of crime, because it has been successful. Increasing awareness of fraud is the first step toward decreasing its devastating impact.”