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Header How one TD colleague helped prevent a customer from falling victim to the grandparent scam
• Jun. 21, 2024

Paul Marion had a feeling that something just didn't add up.

Marion, a TD manager of customer experience in the town of Picton, Ont., about 160 km east of Toronto, has worked at the Bank for 25 years. He's a familiar face in the community and has spent his career supporting customers from in and around Prince Edward County.

So, when one of his regular customers came in on that fateful day in 2023 and asked to speak to him directly, he knew something was wrong. The customer wanted to withdraw $8,000 in cash, which was an unusual request for this individual. Marion politely asked why she needed the money. The customer told Marion she had received a phone call about her grandson. The person on the phone said he was an on-duty police officer who said her grandson was sick with COVID-19 and a friend was driving him to the hospital, when the officer allegedly pulled them over for speeding.

The person on the phone said they found a bag of pills in the car and called her, saying he didn't want to charge the customer's grandson with possession, but the grandson would need $8,000 to cover court costs.

Marion immediately told the customer something seemed wrong with the story, saying that it sounded like a form of a grandparent or emergency scam – where fraudsters may attempt to persuade a grandparent that their grandchild or loved one is in an emergency and in urgent need of money.

He recommended the customer not give money to the alleged officer who had phoned her, and first call her grandson – a student at the time. As it was the middle of the day and the grandson was likely in class, the call went straight to voicemail.

Still, the customer was convinced their grandson was truly in custody and that the police had his phone. Undaunted, Marion was determined to help the customer.

"I suggested she go to the local police station and check to see if her grandson had actually been charged or stopped," Marion said. "I told her the station should be able to help validate the story, if it was in any way true."

The customer wound up speaking with local police and confirmed the story was an attempt at a grandparent scam, and the person who phoned her was trying to scam her. The customer later confirmed that her grandson was okay and had never been pulled over for speeding.

A few days later, the customer returned to the Bank to thank Marion for helping her avoid becoming the victim of the scam.

"Fraudsters are getting better. And with the cost of everything nowadays, can anyone really afford to lose money right now?" Marion said.

"All I did was place the customer in my parents' shoes, because I know I'd want someone to step in to try and help them."

How to spot the Grandparent or Emergency Scam

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.

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.

In 2023, the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC) received fraud reports totaling over $554 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.

To learn more about how to spot the Grandparent scam, you can read this article from TD Stories, or consult the TD Fraud Hub.

Fraud risk may increase as more Canadians age

Last year, the TD Canadian Fraud Management (CFM) team launched its Security Awareness for Everyone (SAFE) program in collaboration with the U.S. Fraud Education team at TD to help address the increase in fraud attempts, including Canadians 65-years and above who are more frequently becoming potential targets for fraudsters.

So far, CFM has held these fraud education sessions to senior community homes in Ontario and British Columbia, collaborating with local TD branches, law enforcement and the CAFC to provide older Canadians with access to easy-to-understand lessons about fraud, scams and prevention.

"Many scams rely on convincing individuals to act urgently in a time of need, taking advantage of emergency or sensitive situations, often using technology to their benefit," said Mark Jayasatria, Group Manager of Fraud Education, Canadian Fraud Management at TD.

"It's important to help protect customers of any age, but fraudsters often target seniors because they believe them to be more financially stable and less tach savvy."

Most of the audiences who attend these presentations say they have been targeted by a fraud attempt and early findings suggest they now better understand the importance of staying safe and vigilant against evolving scams.

As part of his own commitment to the community, Marion also delivers fraud awareness and prevention education presentations at local organizations in Prince Edward County, helping to share best practices with as many people as he can.

"Attendees will say, 'I remembered what you said, and then it happened to me.' Awareness is awesome because it really helps people," he said.

"If we don't educate and try to prevent fraud from happening, things can turn sour so quickly. Education plays a major role in supporting our customers and helping to keep them safe."

As part of these education efforts, branch colleagues will often ask customers about transactions to better understand intent and whether there is any fraud risk.

"Like everything else, scams evolve. All it takes is 30 seconds to ask if a transaction makes sense for the customer," Marion said.

Keeping customers' resources safe and secure

Like Marion, Jayasatria said he too thinks about his parents when he hears about fraudsters targeting seniors.

"My parents have worked hard their entire lives to live more comfortably, and it's heartbreaking to think a fraudster can come and erase all of this by scamming and stealing their money," said Jayasatria.

"For anyone, being a victim of fraud can have a negative impact. For people in seniors' communities, it can also be incredibly challenging to recover from financial loss," he added.

Protecting customers from fraud and scams can help keep their money and their way of life safe.

"We have a rule here at our branch: If it feels weird, ask someone about it. When we explain we're trying to protect customers by asking questions, it helps build their trust in us and how they can protect themselves," said Marion.

"And if you can stop even one fraud attempt, it's one more than if you haven't done anything," he added.

For his efforts and vigilance against fraud and supporting customers in the community, Marion received a Civic Recognition Award in 2023. A different TD customer nominated him after reading the police report recapping the grandparent scam attempt in the local newspaper.

"It was really flattering and nice to be recognized. I'm not a person who wants to pump his own tires, and I just want to help those who may be vulnerable," Marion said.

If you think you've been the victim of a grandparent or emergency scam

Report it: If you or a family member has fallen victim to a scam, it is crucial to report it to your local police immediately. You should also contact your bank using the phone number on the bank of your debit card. You might also wish to file a report with the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre as well.

Talk about it: If you've fallen victim to a scam, or even received a call and hung up – tell your story. The more people who know about these scams, the fewer chances fraudsters have to scam people.

Fraudsters don’t discriminate, and nobody is immune to being targeted by a fraudster. But by staying informed and following the tips set out above, you can help reduce the likelihood of fraud happening to you.

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