Before COVID-19, social isolation among older adults was a major public health issue in Canada, and recognized as being detrimental to quality of life and premature mortality. Canadian census data shows that about 25% of the population aged 65 and over live alone, and nearly half of all women over 75 live by themselves. We are social beings, and our social relationships largely impact our health and well-being, as well as our risk for illness and death.
Older adults are particularly vulnerable to social isolation because of ageing-related role transitions, physical changes, and societal views. Despite the progress made in combatting social isolation and loneliness by the various organizations across the healthcare sector, we still have a long road ahead of us. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has only worsened this issue as the elderly are encouraged to isolate themselves from their loved ones for their own wellbeing.
With more seniors at home alone during this time, they may look to the internet to get information, or answer calls and engage in conversation they might otherwise not have, and having no one to share the COVID-19 journey with them, they may be at increased susceptibility to scams, due to lack of experience with technology or issues with diminished capacity or simply vulnerability.
Unfortunately, the pandemic has become the perfect storm for targeting our vulnerable adult population. According to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, Canadians reported 6,836 incidents of COVID-19 related fraud between March 6, 2020, and October 31, 2020. 5,411 Canadians were a victim of COVID-19 related fraud with a reported loss of $6.6 M..
Some common examples of the COVID-19 scams that are targeting older adults include:
“Phishing emails” which makes the top of the list – where mass emails or text messages are sent out asking people to click on links – offering COVID-19 test kits, free face masks, hand sanitizers or even “Miracle Cures”. These emails and links may have malware or attempt to extort where victims are told their computer has been hacked.
“Merchandise Scams” – where manipulated into placing an order for free masks but then being told to pay for shipping and provide credit card information. Unauthorized charges may also appear on the credit card and no masks are ever shipped.
“Community Helping Scams”: Callers say that they are trying to connect with socially isolated individuals during the pandemic, but in some instances, these callers are predators who are actually trying to identify vulnerable persons so they can get into their house, sell them things, or steal personal information.
What these scams have in common, is that they use high-pressure sales techniques to force individuals to do something playing on fears and to do it quickly so there is no time to think about it.
When individuals fall victim to such scams, the unfortunate reality in these circumstances is that even though criminal remedies may be available, these scams are often perpetrated by fraudsters who live in foreign jurisdictions and, in any event are untraceable.
Should you or your loved ones fall victim to such scams, below are a list of resources you may contact for assistance:
- Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) Website
A person can contact the local police in their jurisdiction if the situation is not an emergency but suspect an act or an omission might be against the law. A request can be made to speak to someone who has been trained in senior abuse, or domestic/family violence.
- Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre
The phone line operated by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and each of the province’s police to provide information about frauds and scams and take reports from people who believe they are victims of fraud. The website allows privacy-protected online reporting of frauds through an electronic complaint form
- The Seniors Safety Line
Toll-Free: 1-866-299-1011 (24 hours)
- Advocacy Centre for the Elderly (ACE)
- Elder Abuse Prevention Ontario (EAPO)
- Ontario Human Rights Commission
Tel: (416) 326-9511
- Office of the Ombudsman of Ontario
Toll-free (inside Ontario only): 1-800-263-1830
Outside Ontario: 416-586-3300
- Ontario Securities Commission
As a regulatory body, the OSC administers and enforces compliance with the provisions of the Securities Act (Ontario) and the Commodity Futures Act (Ontario). Specifically, it works to protect investors, foster fair and efficient markets, and contribute to the stability of the financial system by making and monitoring compliance with rules governing the securities industry in Ontario.
Chapter 17 of our book – WEL Partners on Elder Law and video includes a list of national and provincial resources for older adults, family members, friends, caregivers, professionals and communities. The resources listed provide support, information, and services on the following: physical health, mental wellbeing, assisted living, financial matters, and legal services. These resources can be as educational tools that can assist in the prevention of elder abuse: https://welpartners.com/resources/WEL-on-elder-law.pdf
This paper is intended for the purposes of providing information only and is to be used only for the purposes of guidance. This paper is not intended to be relied upon as the giving of legal advice and does not purport to be exhaustive.