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Popular Scams Trending against Older Adults and How to Protect Yourself

There are so many different types of scams targeting people regardless of their age or their vulnerability. Many government agencies and organizations are constantly working to spread awareness of such scams to protect the public from becoming victims of fraud.

Some popular scams that are currently targeting older adults include: Charity scams, Romance scams and Prize scams.

Charity Scams involve scammers collecting money by pretending to be a real charity. There are different ways in which scammers approach an individual. Often, the scammer will exploit a recent natural disaster or famine that has been in the news or play on emotions by pretending to be from charities that help children who are ill. Pressure is exerted to elicit a donation and details about the charity, such as address & contact details are not provided.[i]

When one is approached to donate to a charity, it is useful to check the registration of the charity on the database of the list of registered charities overseen by Canada Revenue Agency and which can be found at: https://www.canada.ca/en/revenue-agency/services/charities-giving/charities-listings.html.

Romance Scams occur through dating sites, where a scammer sends a few messages and a good-looking photo of themselves, or of someone they claim to be. Once a person is charmed, they will start asking them to send money by claiming to have a very sick family member or be in a desperate situation for which they need your help. Once the money is transferred to the fraudsters, they often disappear.[ii]

Surprisingly, romance scams cost Canadians more than $22.5 million in 2018, surpassing all other forms of fraud in terms of money lost, according to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.[iii]

In situations where the fraudster is offshore, or the money sent is untraceable, there is very little that the police can do, either because they have no investigative authority in the foreign jurisdiction or because it is too late, and the money is gone.

Unfortunately, the victims of such scams have no remedy available to them and the fraudsters will rarely be held accountable for their actions.

The situation is different when the fraud is committed by a person that is known to the older adult since most often civil and/or criminal remedies are available.

It is imperative however, to increase the public’s awareness within the purview of the older adult by developing mechanisms that will act as preventative measures, rather than redress after the scam / fraud has taken place.

In 2018, Global News interviewed a senior lady who was diagnosed with early signs of dementia, and had lost about $140,000.00 after becoming a target of a fake suiter who stole her money. After losing her husband and feeling lonely, she joined an online dating site, match.com. The imposter began his aggressive pursuit online, sent her pictures of himself and listened to her issues.

Once she was hooked, the money requests started. Initially, the fraudster requested $12,000.00 USD which she sent, then he requested $80,000.00 USD as he claimed he had been jailed in India, which she also sent, despite her bank manager advising her of the potential fraud.

Only when the imposter asked her to send money for the third time did she accept that she had been scammed and went to the police to report it. By that time, it was unfortunately too late.

The scam cost her, her independence. She had to move out of her house as she couldn’t afford to live there anymore. She also had to sell her car.

This victim is aware that retrieving the money is almost impossible but she wanted her story to be heard, in the hopes of warning others who might fall a victim to such a scam.[iv]

Prize Scams occur when people are contacted via an email, a letter, text message, social media or phone call, advising they have won, or have a chance at winning, a prize or lottery. The “winner” must first purchase something, or pay an advance fee such as taxes to receive the prize. The fraudsters also urge the individual to keep their winnings private or confidential, to ‘maintain security’, or stop other people from getting the prize by mistake. This is done to prevent the person from seeking further information or advice from independent sources.[v]

Another story reported by CBC News in 2017, is of a senior from Norfolk County, who was scammed out of $152,000.00, after being told by an unknown caller that he had won an International Sweepstakes Lottery valued at $24.9 million USD, and needed to send money via wire transfers to cover the taxes from the winnings. The wire transfers were sent to addresses in San Francisco and New Jersey, then they were subsequently transferred to a number of unknown individuals.[vi]

Unfortunately for this victim, no legal recourse was available since there was very little that the police could do -the money and the perpetrator were in a foreign jurisdiction.

Tips for Protection Against Scams:

  • If you haven’t entered a lottery or competition, you can’t win it;
  • If someone asks you to pay money up-front in order to receive a prize or winnings, it’s almost always a scam;
  • Verify the identity of the contact by calling the relevant organisation directly. Find them through an independent source, such as a phone book or online search. Do notuse the contact details provided in the message sent to you;
  • Do an internet search, many scams can be identified this way;
  • Never send money or give credit card or online account details, or copies of important personal documents to anyone you don’t know or trust;
  • Avoid anything that requests payment via money order, wire transfer, international funds transfer, pre-loaded card or electronic currency like Bitcoin. It is rare to recover money sent this way; and
  • Scammers frequently use high-pressure sales tactics because they want to quickly move on to other victims. If you’re asked to make a decision right away, or are presented with a limited time offer, it’s likely not in your best interests. Scammers know that if you have time to check things out, you may not fall for their scam.[vii]


[i] Competition Bureau Canada “the Little Black Book of Scams- Your Guide to Protection against fraud”, first published by the Competition Bureau Canada 2012 and reproduced with permission from the Australian Competition and consumer Commission, at 18, online: https://www.competitionbureau.gc.ca/eic/site/cb-bc.nsf/eng/03074.html

[ii] Competition Bureau Canada “the Little Black Book of Scams- 2nd Edition”, at 11, online: https://www.competitionbureau.gc.ca/eic/site/cb-bc.nsf/vwapj/CB-lBBS2-EN.pdf/$file/CB-lBBS2-EN.pdf

[iii] Daniel Otiso, “No 1 scam: Romance fraud cost Canadians more than $22.5M in 2018”, February 13, 2019, CTV News, online: https://www.ctvnews.ca/lifestyle/no-1-scam-romance-fraud-cost-canadians-more-than-22-5m-in-2018-1.4294076

[iv] Sean O’Shea, “Romance scam costs Ontario senior $140K”, January 1, 2019, Global News, online:  https://globalnews.ca/news/4806823/romance-scam-ontario-senior/

[v] The Australian competition and consumer Commission, accessed on April 15, 2019, online: https://www.scamwatch.gov.au/types-of-scams/unexpected-winnings/unexpected-prize-lottery-scams

[vi] “Senior loses $152,000 in ‘International Sweepstakes Lottery’ scam” CBC News, November 1, 2017, online: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/hamilton/sweepstakes-scam-vehicle-phone-call-norfolk-county-1.4381597

[vii] The Australian competition and consumer Commission, accessed on April 15, 2019, online: https://www.scamwatch.gov.au/types-of-scams/unexpected-winnings/unexpected-prize-lottery-scams


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