Victor’s nightmare began with a phone call from someone claiming to be from the Canada Revenue Agency, informing him he owed thousands in unpaid taxes. If he didn’t pay immediately, he would be arrested. Victor was too embarrassed to ask his daughter for help. Had he messed up that badly? The scammer picked up on his panic, demanding his social insurance number and immediate payment. Fortunately for Victor, he was so overwhelmed he hung up on the caller and stopped answering calls unless he recognized the number. When he finally told his daughter what happened, she assured him that it had been a scam because the CRA never demands immediate payment or make threatening phone calls.
Not every senior is as lucky as Victor. Although Canadians of every demographic are victims of financial fraud, seniors are the preferred target of local, national, and international scammers. According to financial crimes expert Vanessa LaFolla, these scammers are becoming increasingly sophisticated, making it harder for vulnerable seniors to distinguish fact from fiction. She refers to these scammers as "natural psychologists who really understand what vulnerabilities people have."1
In addition to the tax scam that Victor almost fell for, other fraudulent activities frequently targeting seniors include the following:
Scammers use pop-ups on websites to alert about viruses or other scams, prompting victims to give them access to financial information on their computers. Scammers will also "phish" (email) or "smish" (text), using false links to access credit card numbers, passwords, and sensitive information.
Seniors whose lifestyles or relationship status keep them socially isolated can be especially vulnerable to scams, particularly those shrouded in online anonymity. To extort funds, scammers groom seniors for days, months and sometimes years, timing their financial "ask" when individuals are most receptive to their scheme.
Scammers may call, email or even knock on seniors’ doors, seeking help for a loved one in distress. These scammers prey on sympathy, convincing their victims to hand over thousands of dollars to rescue a relative in physical, mental or legal distress. The scammers lend credibility to this fraud by combing a senior’s social media posts, then preying upon their worry about friends or family.
Protecting yourself and loved ones from scams
The best antidote to lies is fact. Whether you’re a senior yourself or a know someone vulnerable to financial exploitation, one of your best defenses is a relationship with a trusted financial advisor. An advisor could look for warning signs among clients, flag suspicious financial transactions and alert family members. If someone you love is in cognitive decline or is vulnerable to financial scammers, having a financial advisor in your corner could mean the difference between financial well-being and ruin.