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Scams and fraud targeted at seniors

Abuse of elders and seniors citizens​ is a very real problem, and many scams and frauds are targeted at senior citizens who are vulnerable. Don't become a victim - be aware of these scams and don't let them happen to you or someone you love.

Reporting scams and fraud

If you have been the victim of a crime or fraud, please call the Calgary Police Service non-emergency number at 403-266-1234 to report the crime. You should also consider reporting any scams to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre​ and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police​.

Scams and fraud commonly targeted at seniors

Below are some of the most common scams that are aimed at vulnerable seniors. Additionally, online scams are gaining momentum - find out how to protect yourself from:

Telemarketing fraud

While telemarketers call people of all ages, backgrounds and incomes, calls to older adults make up a large percentage. Some statistics believe as much as 80 per cent (according to the American Association of Retired Persons).Telemarketers sales pitches are sophisticated and include phony prizes, illegitimate sweepstakes, fake charities, and bogus investments.

Take these precautions to avoid telemarketing fraud:

  • Never send money or give out personal information such as credit card numbers, bank account numbers, dates of birth, or Social Insurance Numbers to unfamiliar companies or unknown persons.
  • If you have doubts about a telemarketer’s legitimacy, be sure to ask for their company’s name and address, along with a phone number where they can be reached at a later time.
  • For elderly widows, if a caller asks for the man of the house, be sure not to say that there isn’t one or indicate that you live alone.
  • Talk to family and friends or call your lawyer, accountant or banker and get their advice before you make any large purchase or investment over the phone with a stranger.
  • Check out unfamiliar companies with the Better Business Bureau, or other watchdog groups.
  • Don’t forget the power to simply hang up the phone when a stranger calls trying to sell you something you don’t want.
  • Be sure to sign up for the Registering on the National Do Not Call List (DNCL). This will eliminate most calls except exceptions that include organizations such as charities, those with whom you have existing business relationships, political parties and newspapers.

Home improvement fraud

Home improvement contractors use several methods of targeting seniors: high pressure phone calls, flyers, advertisements and door-to-door-sales. Fraudulent contractors can be very effective in making people think their services are needed, and then defrauding their victims.

Before you hire a contractor to do renovations or repairs to your home, do your homework:

  • Use a local well-established contractor. Ask for references and check them.
  • Check with Service Alberta to find out if a contractor is licensed as a prepaid contractor. You can find out by calling the Consumer Contact Centre toll free in Alberta at 1-877-427-4088.
  • Get competitive bids on all work and be wary of any bids that seem too good to be true. Don’t accept high-pressure offers or offers that force you to make a quick decision.
  • Determine exactly what work you want done. Make sure the project is explicitly described in your contract, including materials and labor specifics and dates for estimated start and completion.
  • Never say yes to someone who wants money up front before the job is done or wants you to withdraw a large amount of money from your bank.
  • Check to see that the work is complete and done correctly before paying.
  • Find out when and how payment and/or billing will take place before the work begins.
  • The best way to find a home renovations contractor is through other satisfied customers.

Door-to-door sale scams

Older adults are frequent victims of door-to-door scams and high-pressure sales tactics. While some door-to-door salespeople are honest, the chances are likely that whoever answers the door is about to be swindled. Con-artists often try to encourage older adults into buying unnecessary products or services. They usually appear friendly and appear sincere in their desire to help. They are successful because they seem so honest.

Avoid door-to-door scams with these tips:

  • Never allow anyone you don’t know into your home. It’s easier to close the door on them before they get in than to get them out once they’re inside.
  • Don’t buy on impulse. Tell the salesperson you will get back in touch after you have had a chance to carefully read all the materials given to you.
  • Ask to see the salesperson’s credentials and identification and request their business card.
  • Never give cash up front to a salesperson or rely on verbal promises for delivered goods.
  • If you sign a contract, make sure that it is complete, signed and dated. Get all terms in writing, including the total price, warranties, return policy, and all conditions of sale.

False charities

If an unfamiliar charity organization contacts you - by mail, phone or Internet - be careful. Bogus charities often use names that are very close to the names of legitimate and respected charities. Don't trust high-pressure or threatening telemarketers who want you to contribute immediately. If someone calls and thanks you for a pledge you don't remember making, hang up or cut contact with them.

Avoid false charity scams with these tips:

  • If you receive a telephone call, ask for the information to be sent to you in writing. Ask how much of your gift will be used directly for the charity. Ask how much will go toward administrative costs. Legitimate charities have no problem giving you this information.
  • Remember on an incoming call a person could be misrepresenting a legitimate charity.
  • Never give out your personal / financial information out over the phone, or at the door. You may wish to make out a cheque payable to the charity. You can mail the cheque later.
  • Call the charity. Find out if they know about the appeal and have authorized it.
  • Ask if the charity is registered.
  • Ask them to give you the charitable tax number of the charity. Question any discrepancies.

Dead air calls

"The phone is ringing but no one is there when I answer."

If this happens to you, your phone may have a technical problem but you may also be receiving calls from an automatic dialer that logs the time the phone is answered. A telemarketer uses the information to indicate when a person will be at your number to answer the phone.

Service scams

Service scams are any false, deceptive or misleading promotion of services or solicitation for services.

These scams typically involve third parties that make offers for telecommunications, internet, finance, medical and energy services. This category of scams may also include, but is not limited to, offers such as extended warranties, insurance and sales services.

"Grandparent" scams

The "Grandparents" scam has been around for years, and resurfaces regularly. One should always be on alert for this scam.

In the typical scenario, a grandparent receives a phone call from a con-artist claiming to be one of his or her grandchildren. The caller goes on to say that they are in some kind of trouble and need money immediately. Typically they claim that they've been involved in a car accident, have had trouble returning from a foreign country or need bail money. Wanting to help their grandchild, the victim sends money by a money transfer company such as Money Gram or Western Union.

A typical call can go something like this:

Con-artist: Hi, Grandma/Grandpa
Victim: Hi.
Con-artist: Do you know who this is?
Victim: John?
Con-artist: Yeah.
Con-Artist: Can you please help me? I'm in jail (or in the hospital / or in some type of financial need). But don't tell dad. He would kill me if he found out, please send the money ASAP. I'm scared.

Make sure you verify stories before sending any money.