Have your parents ever mentioned a suspicious email or text message they received that asked them to change their account details? Or have your grandparents received a call alerting them that their password has expired and the caller needs remote access to their computer to fix it?
While situations like these may raise serious red flags to you, seniors are more likely to fall for them – and they’re increasingly commonplace.
In 2021, 67,815 Canadians1 fell victim to financial fraud, losing more than $380 million, according to Canadian Anti-Fraud Center. Fraud is the No. 1 crime against older Canadians.2
We’re here to help you keep your loved ones safe from scams and fraudsters targeting them.
Why are seniors targets for fraud?
Financial scams targeting older adults are opportunistic: Seniors tend to spend more time at home, which increases the odds of answering the door or picking up the phone when a fraudster comes calling. Older adults might also be more trusting and have more disposable income.
Seniors were especially vulnerable to scams, financial fraud and elder abuse during COVID-19 because scammers preyed on fears around the pandemic, promising to schedule vaccine appointments or mail COVID tests in exchange for a credit card number or banking information.
Loneliness plays a role, too. If your parents or grandparents spend most of their time alone or isolated, they might be excited to get a phone call, email or instant message from someone keen to discuss current events and hear about their day – even if it’s a stranger. These so-called “romance scams” target older adults who are socially isolated.
Are my loved ones really at risk?
Your parents or grandparents might not think they’d ever fall for financial fraud, but scammers are more common than you’d imagine. Scams are more sophisticated than ever, exploiting real-world events, individual fears and our desire to help others.
Scammers will call, text and email pretending to be from the Canada Revenue Agency, law enforcement or the bank- some will even demand that fines or ransom should be paid in bitcoin. These calls should raise red flags as the tone is urgent in nature and oftentimes threatening. Some scammers will even pose as grandchildren, texting because they’re in trouble and need cash. This type of scam has grown exponentially over the last year and is referred to as the “grandparent scam”.
How to recognize, reject and report fraud
There's no way to stop scammers from calling, but you can help your loved ones take steps to avoid falling for financial fraud.
The Scotiabank Security Centre maintains a list of common scams and offers tips to recognize, reject and report fraud. Some helpful tips to protect your parent or grandparent:
Remind them not to share personal details
It's ok for your dad to tell the world about scoring the winning goal in the Pee Wee championship game (again) and your mom should feel free to post her prize-winning butter tart recipe on her Facebook page but remind your parents never share personal details like their Social Insurance Number, bank account number, PIN and passwords. Educate them about the reasons not to answer the random questions people may call to ask about their first car, favourite pet’s name and birth year, which could be attempts to guess their passwords.
Keep scammers out
Your mother-in-law calls to ask if she should click on the pop-up window to claim a prize for being the millionth visitor to a website. After reassuring her that the sweepstakes win is a scam, start a conversation about the reasons she should never click on pop-ups, links or attachments that could add malware to her computer.
Ask about their passwords, too
Instead of logging into websites and devices with the same generic passwords like Canuck123, help them create strong passwords that are hard for scammers to guess and remind them never to re-use passwords for multiple accounts. Also make sure the antivirus and antispyware on their computers is up to date to prevent scammers from gaining remote access to their data.
Shop with caution
Your parents may love online shopping but make sure they limit purchases to retailers they know and trust. Show them how to look for the image of a padlock or “https" in the URL to make sure a site is secure—and reassure them that if a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is.
Protect their social media accounts
Help your parents update the privacy and security settings on their social media accounts to limit what people can see and make sure they know to only accept friend requests from people they know. Remind them to delete messages from strangers who fell in love with their profile photos and want to get to know them better (no matter how flattered they feel by the attention); they likely want their money, not their affection.
Monitor monthly statements
Make sure your parents check their monthly bank and credit card statements and encourage them to report any discrepancies or unfamiliar transactions right away. You can also set up Scotiabank InfoAlerts to receive emails or app notifications about new account activities. Statements should be shredded, not tossed in the trash. It's also a good idea to help them check their credit reports annually for unauthorized accounts or other signs of identity theft.
Ask them to name you as a trusted contact
One of the best ways to protect your loved ones from scams and other forms of financial abuse is to have them name you as a trusted contact. The Trusted Contact Person isn't allowed to make financial decisions but it will allow you to talk with their investment advisors to express concerns about their personal and financial wellbeing.
Encourage your parents to trust their intuition
Your parent may need to be reminded that an email asking you to share in a Lotto 649 win or a phone call from the government asking for their SIN and financial details to process a hefty refund should raise some serious red flags. Encourage them to hit delete or hang up the phone and if in doubt find the registered number or contact for to call back and inquire.
What should I do if my loved one has been scammed?
Falling for a scam can be embarrassing (and your parent may not want to tell you due to fears they'll be perceived as incompetent) but fraud can happen to anyone, at any age. It's important to report scams to help others from falling for similar scams and for organizations to flag these types of fraud.
Here are the steps you should take if your loved ones have been scammed:
Collect any receipts, emails, text messages or other documentation related to the scam to share with law enforcement. The more information you can provide, the easier it will be to investigate the fraud.
Report the scam
In addition to calling the police, help them notify their financial institutions, Equifax and TransUnion and have their accounts flagged. Scotiabank customers can call 1-800-4-SCOTIA (1-800-472-6842), press 3 then 1 to report fraud.
File a report
The Canadian Anti-Fraud Center’s fraud reporting system collects information about scams (and scammers) to help law enforcement investigate these crimes.
Change all passwords
Your parents should go online and change all of the passwords for their bank, credit card and investment accounts, social media profiles and other sites where personal data is stored. It’s important that strong and unique passwords for each account are used.
Warn your family and friends
If a scammer targets your parents, they're probably targeting other loved ones, too. Talk about the experience, and encourage your parents to do the same, to make sure others don't fall for the same scams.
Fraudsters will never stop committing these crimes and continue to evolve their tactics based on current situations and new and emerging technology. The more you know about common scams (and their tendency to target older adults) and the more ways you can encourage your aging parents to protect themselves, the less likely they'll be to fall victim to scammers.