Ontario seniors scammed of $5.4 million in 2022 by phone fraud

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Lambton was one of the hardest hit regions

The OPP is urging families to talk to their elderly loved ones about ‘The Grandparent’s Scam’ as the number of people losing money soars.

West Region OPP say the number of seniors sending cash to people they believe are their grandchildren has increased 220 per cent in one year with 348 incidents being investigated in 2022.

OPP Const. Erin Fraser of the Serious Fraud and Anti-Rackets office says last year alone, scammers stole $9.2 million from seniors across the country – about $5.4 million of that was in Ontario. In 2021, the OPP reported about $2.4 million was stolen through the Grandparent Scam.

Essex County had the highest number of incidents followed by Lambton and Oxford County.

Det. Const. John Armit says “different (criminal) groups are seeing how lucrative it is and they’re jumping in.”

Karen Piatt Westbrook of the Older Adult Centres Association of Ontario says the scam is pervasive. She was speaking to a colleague who told her he’d called his own grandfather just to check in and found out he was headed to the bank to get $5,000 after falling victim to the phone scammers.

“We hear about this type of occurrence quite often and the seniors say ‘I never thought this could happen to me,” says Piatt-Westbrook. “It leaves people feeling isolated, victimized and embarrassed.”

Often, she says, the elderly won’t tell their family they’ve lost money because they fear losing their independence when family finds they’ve been duped.

The OPP estimates only five per cent of the scams are ever reported to police.

Piatt-Westbrook pleaded with the elderly to come forward. “Make sure you talk to your family members right away…if you don’t feel comfortable talking with the police, call someone you trust.”

Det. Const. Armit added seniors need to know the scammers always make the situation seem urgent. But he says, they should “pause and call your relatives – and feel free to hang up on (the scammers.)

“We can’t arrest our way out of cyber crime,” says Armit. “We have to work together to get this information out there.”