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AI voice fakery boosts rash of ‘grandson scam’ phone calls on Vancouver Island

Nanaimo RCMP report rash of phone scams where people were conned out of between $3,000 and $8,000

Police don’t typically field a lot of scam phone calls, but this week operators at the Nanaimo RCMP detachment received multiple calls from people asking if their grandchildren were being held in the detachment’s cells.

The calls were spurred by a wave of grandson scam attempts in Nanaimo and other Island communities.

“We had 20 calls yesterday,” said reserve Const. Gary O’Brien, Nanaimo RCMP spokesperson. “Those who got conned lost between $3,000 and $8,000.”

The grandson scam involves criminals calling a potential victim, pretending to be their grandson and claiming to be in trouble with the law, often in a foreign country. They say they need several thousand dollars to cover bail and legal defence costs, and another scammer pretending to be a defence lawyer or assistant then comes on the line to instruct the victim on how much money is needed and how to transfer the funds.

This time, O’Brien said, the scammers were claiming to be in jail in Nanaimo.

Voices in the calls impersonated grandsons, granddaughters, police and even the Embassy of Canada to the Dominican Republic.

“It actually was friend of mine who called in. He’s quite an astute guy, too. He said [he was 95 per cent sure] it was a fraud, but they used AI to [mimic] his niece’s voice … He said it sounded just like his niece,” O’Brien said. “She was ‘arrested and in jail’ in the Dominican Republic and they had an ‘official with Canadian consul’ call in.”

Other scam stories involved someone who was in jail after being involved in a vehicle accident involving a pregnant woman, and someone who said they were taken into custody because they were a passenger in car in which drugs were seized.

“The other ones were impersonating a police officer … They also had legal assistants on, so it went from the grandson to the lawyer to the legal assistant who provided the detail on the [money] wire and the 10-digit transaction number,” O’Brien said. “We had one woman call in from a local chartered bank and the bank refused to give the money out. They said you have to call the RCMP and it took about 20 minutes to convince her that it was actually a fraud.”

O’Brien said ages of the victims who fell for the scam varied from their 50s to 80s and for those who lost money, there’s little the RCMP can do to help them other than create a file about the theft.

“The money’s been wired out and unless they go immediately to their chartered bank with the file number, there’s not much the bank can do,” O’Brien said. “Often the bank will try to assist them.”

To learn more about online fraud and telephone scams, how to avoid becoming a victim of fraud or what steps fraud victims should take, visit the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre at Victims can also report frauds by calling 1-888-495-8501. Fraud victims should also contact the Nanaimo RCMP at 250-754-2345.

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