Ottawa Citizen

‘Emergency’ scam in use more often

Elderly most vulnerable, Ontario authoritie­s say


The venerable “emergency scam” is growing in popularity with con artists in Ontario, the Ontario Provincial Police and the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre say.

In this type of scam, a con artist, who is typically male, poses as a family member in trouble and in urgent need of cash. Typically, the scenario involves an arrest or accident while traveling abroad, and the fraudster requests a money transfer through a company such as Western Union or Money Gram.

“They often start small at a couple thousand dollars,” said Sgt. John Vanden Heuvel of the OPP anti-rackets branch. “ But many times they call back and request more.”

In the first two months of 2010, the fraud centre received reports of 23 emergency scams in Ontario, netting fraudsters $88,000. There were also 96 failed attempts.

In 2009, there were 61 scam reports and 225 failed attempts. Victims were defrauded of a total of $230,000.

Grandparen­ts are often targeted, with a caller posing as a grandchild who begs for money and asks the victim not to tell other family members to avoid “getting in trouble.”

“ Elderly people tend to be less savvy about these types of crimes than younger people,” VandenHeuv­el said.

The anti-fraud centre has had reports of a recent variation of the scam, with contact lists taken from e-mail accounts. The fraudster poses as one of the contacts and sends the victim an urgent request for money, often using a scenario related to hospitaliz­ation or imprisonme­nt.

It’s estimated that the number of reported frauds represents only five per cent of the actual number of cases. “They are very difficult to track down,” Vanden Heuvel said.

March is Fraud Prevention Month and the OPP is urging people to verify callers requesting money and report any suspected frauds to the CAFC at 1-888-495-8501.

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