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

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

Since the start of the pandemic, VanGorder said scams that occur online or over the phone, are more common than ever.

“It’s almost as if the perpetrators are directing more of their focus toward older Nova Scotians,” he said.

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

“They have not been thinking that anybody would ever try to do this kind of thing to them and that’s one of the reasons they don’t recognize it.”

The Nova Scotia RCMP recently warned residents of a scam that targets grandparents, where a scammer pretending to be a lawyer contacts a target claiming their grandchild was arrested and money is needed for their release. In one instance, a victim sent $9,000 by mail to the fraudster, said the RCMP in a March 10 release.

VanGorder said what makes seniors more vulnerable is that they likely have more time to spend time talking to people on the phone when they call, and are more likely to listen, especially considering the isolation many felt in the past two years.

The RCMP also said the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre reported Nova Scotians gave up more than $2.5M to scams in 2021, an increase of 331 per cent compared to 2020.

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

And he believes the problem is much worse than is publicly known.

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

But, it’s not just phone scams that pose a problem. Seniors are also vulnerable to being taken advantage of when seeking costly services.

One couple from Ontario is hoping no other senior goes through what they call a “nightmare” scenario.

Moving within the province, Kathleen Finlay hired a moving company that advertised specifically for seniors to move all of their family’s belongings.

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

“It was so stressful, just going back now, I’m thinking about it and I’m starting to have palpitations,” she said.

After being satisfied with the initial estimated cost the company provided her, Finlay said she was severely overcharged and had her items held hostage.

A company representative “threatened to have the police sent after me and of course, he threatened to sell our goods if I didn’t pay his inflated bill,” she said.  “Which I had to do. I didn’t have a choice.”

When she got her stuff back, she claims it was banged up, dirty and broken.

“I mean that is devastatingly difficult to deal with. Especially for older people.”

Now, she wants to warn others.

“This was the biggest mistake I have ever made in my life, literally, 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 spokesperson Andrew Joyce said the agency encourages people to reach out to seniors they know, who live alone, and warn them of potential fraud.

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