Seniors in N.S., across Canada, targeted in growing number of ‘devastating’ scams

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Seniors in Nova Scotia and across the country are increasingly being targeted by scams.

“It was devastating for a lot of people,” said Bill VanGorder of the Canadian Association of Retired Persons (CARP).

Since the pandemic began, scams conducted online or over the phone have been more prevalent than ever, according to VanGorder.

“It’s almost as if the perpetrators are more focused on older Nova Scotians,” he said.

“And you know that Nova Scotians – Atlantic Canadians – for the most part, especially older people, are very trusting people.

“They didn’t think anyone would ever try to do that to them, and that’s one of the reasons they don’t realize it.”

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Nova Scotia’s RCMP recently warned residents of a grandparent-targeting scam in which a scammer posing as a lawyer contacts a target, claiming his grandchild has been arrested and money is needed for his release. In one case, a victim mailed $9,000 to the scammer, the RCMP said in a March 10 release.

VanGorder said what makes seniors more vulnerable is they are likely to have more time to talk to people on the phone when they call and are more likely to listen, especially given the isolation many have felt over the past two years.

The RCMP also said the Canadian Anti-Fraud Center reported that Nova Scotians gave up more than $2.5 million on fraud in 2021, a 331 percent increase compared to 2020.

“When people are lonely and isolated from family, they don’t always make the good decisions that they would otherwise make,” VanGorder said.

And he believes the problem is far worse than public knowledge.

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National statistics show that only about 30 percent of people who have been scammed actually report it to the police, “so it’s kind of the tip of the iceberg,” he said.

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But it’s not just phone scams that are a problem. Seniors are also prone to being taken advantage of when using costly services.

An Ontario couple hopes no other senior goes through what they call a “nightmare” scenario.

Kathleen Finlay moved within the province and hired a moving company that specifically promoted seniors to move all of her family’s belongings.

After reading reviews online, Finlay, 65, thought it was a shop she could trust, but that was far from the truth.

“It’s been so stressful, I just go back now, I think about it and I’m starting to get heart palpitations,” she said.

After being satisfied with the original estimated cost the company provided her with, Finlay said she was grossly overcharged and her items were being held hostage.

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A company representative “threatened to have the police sent for me, and of course he threatened to sell our goods if I didn’t pay his inflated bill,” she said. “What I had to do. I had no choice.”

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When she got her things back, she claimed they were broken, dirty and broken.

“I mean, that’s devastatingly difficult to handle. Especially for older people.”

Now she wants to warn others.

“It was literally the biggest mistake I’ve ever made in my life and it was a really costly mistake.”

Finlay said if something doesn’t seem right or seems too good to be true, it probably is.

RCMP spokesman Andrew Joyce said the agency is encouraging people to reach out to seniors they know who live alone and warning them of potential fraud.

“We urge you to speak to these people and let them know what you know.”

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