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Elderly man looking at his phone
• May 4, 2023

Imagine being at home late at night and your phone rings. The person on the other end says they're your grandchild, something terrible has happened, and they need your help. They need money.

If you ever receive a call like this, you could be the target of what's commonly known as a 'Grandparent' or 'Emergency' scam, and it's important that you understand the situation and confirm all information before deciding whether you should send any money at all.

"Please don’t tell my mom, Grandma – she'll be so upset."

Here's how the grandparent scam typically works: The phone rings and the caller claims to be the grandchild of the person who answers. The caller, who typically sounds very distressed (enough for their voice not to be recognizable), says they have been injured or in an accident or some other emergency, and they need money. The caller also pleads with the 'grandparent' or intended victim not to tell anyone.

READ: 5 ways to protect yourself from financial fraudsters

Wanting to help who they believe is their grandchild, the victim sends money – often by funds transfer (which could include wire transfers or e-transfers), gift cards, or sending cash by mail/courier. Since the victim has promised to keep it secret, they usually don't find out it's a scam until it's too late and their money is gone.

Fraudsters can target victims through the grandparent scam by phone call, email and text message, with many using details from social media to make their stories more believable.

A growing problem

In 2022, the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC) received fraud reports totaling $530 million in losses—nearly a 40 per cent increase from the 2021. According to the CAFC, last year alone, more than $9.2 million was reported lost to grandparent/emergency scams. At the same time, the CAFC estimates that only a small fraction of victims report these types of frauds due to embarrassment.

The grandparent/emergency scam is often successful for scammers because it exploits human vulnerability and the desire to care for family and friends.

How to prevent being defrauded:

1. Verify the caller

If you get a phone call like this, you will need to ask some probing questions – even at three o'clock in the morning – that only the real person would know. For example, ask them to confirm the last time they saw you or what nickname you call them by. You should also try calling or messaging someone closest to the person who is claiming to be calling you, so that you can verify the story.

2. Be the one to ask the questions

Don’t answer the ones they pose to you. These types of fraud calls trick the victim into providing information, which the fraudster then uses against the victim. Make sure you aren't offering names or confirming details that the fraudsters are prompting you to provide. If they really are who they say they are, they will be able to answer your questions.

3. How to report a phone scam

If you believe you've been a victim of the grandparent scam or any other type of financial fraud, the RCMP recommends you contact your financial institution immediately, report the incident to your local police and file a report with the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.

4. Talk about it

If you've fallen victim to the grandparent/emergency scam, or even received this type of call and immediately hung up – tell your story. The more people who know about it, the fewer chances fraudsters have to defraud people. While you may feel embarrassed, you are not the first person who's been tricked by this type of scam. Sharing your story can help others avoid being scammed.

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