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Tips to avoid scams targeting seniors

In most cases, fraudsters impersonate an individual, business or agency seniors recognize and trust

Scams targetted at seniors is one form of elder abuse being highlighted on World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD) which the International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse (INPEA) has designated June 15.

Various organizations, including the Canadian Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse and the Better Business Bureau (BBB), have come together to help provide resources, raise awareness and prevent elder abuse. This year, BBB is highlighting the most common scams targeting seniors along with tips that they, family members, business owners and their employees can all utilize to help keep them safe.

“BBB is contacted daily about scams specifically targeting seniors, which ultimately end up costing them more than money,” said Karla Laird, Senior Manager for Media & Communications at BBB serving Mainland BC. “In most cases, the fraudsters are impersonating an individual, business or government agency the seniors recognize and trust and ensure the victims feel compelled to act immediately on the instructions they receive. We must empower our seniors with the information they need to avoid these targeted scams, as well as make them feel comfortable enough to discuss potential opportunities which may or may not be fraudulent.”

Become familiar with these common scams targeting seniors:

Grandparents scam - The scammer contacts a senior claiming to be their grandchild who is in a dire situation and needs money. The plea is so persuasive that the grandparent wires money to the scammer, only to find out later their family member was safe and sound all along.

Bogus sweepstakes/lottery scam - You receive an email or phone call from an alleged contest organizer informing you that you’ve won a prize. To claim your winnings, scammers say you must first pay taxes, shipping costs, or other fees. You are urged to send the money by wire transfer, or buy a prepaid debit card and share the number and PIN with the “contest organizer.” In a variation of this scam, you are sent a cheque to deposit into your bank account and then wire or use a prepaid debit card to send the “taxes” to a third party. The cheque is fake and you are left to find back that money to repay the bank. Either way, you receive no winnings and lose money.

Tech support scam - You get a telephone call or see a pop-up alert on your computer screen from someone claiming to be with tech support from a well-known software company. You are told only a tech support employee can fix a problem they have identified and you are asked to allow access to your machine. Once access is granted, the caller may pretend to run a “scan” and claim your computer is infected with viruses. The scammer then offers to fix the problem for a fee. If you allow remote access to your device, malware may be installed on your machine. Malware often scans files in search of personal information, which scammers can use to commit identity theft.

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BBB is sharing the following tips:

Resist the urge to act immediately. Do not rely solely on an online search. Take the time to do extensive research as well as ask for help or advice from a trusted family member or friend.

Make sure you know who you are really talking to. Ask questions that would be hard for an impostor to answer correctly. Emails can be hacked and phone numbers can be spoofed. Contact the suspicious person yourself using a phone number or email you get from a source other than the person contacting you.

If you do not recognize a phone number, let the call go to voicemail. If the reason for contacting you is important, the caller will leave a message. Hang up on unexpected calls from anyone claiming to be tech support.

Never wire money or send gift cards to someone you do not know. No government agency or sweepstakes company will ever ask you to wire money to pay for taxes or any other fees.

Cheques can bounce even after your bank allows you to withdraw cash from the deposit. The bank will upfront the money in good faith, however, once they conduct their reviews and recognize the fraud, you will be responsible for the amount of the bounced cheque plus fees.

Never give control of your computer to or share passwords with anyone who contacts you. Do not click on any links or call a number that pops up on your screen warning of a computer problem. If you see a pop-up alert on your computer screen, shut down your computer and restart it rather than call the phone number on the alert.

Report suspected instances of scams and fraud. Contact your financial institution immediately if your bank account and/or credit card details have been compromised, or if you were tricked into making purchases on a fraudulent website. They can issue new banking information and may be able to reverse charges for purchases made months or more before, depending on the fraud. Also leave a report on BBB Scam Tracker to help warn others.

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