A guide to common scams targeting society’s most vulnerable

Times of crisis can bring out the best in people, but they can unfortunately bring out the worst. As communities have united together during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic in a show of great strength and resilience, there has also been sharp increase in scams aimed at preying on the most vulnerable.

According to CanAge, Canada’s national seniors’ advocacy group, there has been a 10-fold increase in financial elder abuse fraud and scams that are mostly COVID19 specific.

More than ever, it’s important to be alert to red flags and keep a watchful eye out for signs of fraud that you or loved ones might be susceptible to. Here are some of the most common scams that are being used:

  • Emails, phone calls and text messages encouraging seniors to apply for COVID-related government benefits.
  • A version of the CRA scam where fraudsters threaten that your “provincial medical benefits” have run out, or are running out, and you need to send money either to reinstate them or to buy private medical insurance.
  • A phone call from someone posing as a representative from a provincial or municipal health authority saying that you have been found to either have COVID-19 or have been exposed to it. They ask for your credit card to pay for testing or results.
  • A phone call from someone posing as a Canada Post or UPS representative saying that you have a package (often international) which has been attempted to be delivered, but you need to pay duty or shipping first.
  • Fake financial planners calling about opportunities to boost your investment portfolios after losses due to COVID-19.
  • Fake bank messages asking for a SIN number and banking information to set up a direct deposit for government funds due to COVID-19.
  • Websites asking for credit card donations to help purchase Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for front line health care workers.
  • A phone call from a fake community organization claiming they are trying to help socially isolated seniors. In some cases, these callers are predators who are trying to identify vulnerable seniors so that they can get into their house, sell them things, or steal their personal information. It is important to note that there are legitimate organizations reaching out to vulnerable seniors during the COVID-19 crisis. To ensure that they are reputable, ask them for their phone number and call them back before providing any personal information. NEVER give out your financial information.
  • Romance scams through social media and on-line dating sites targeting seniors who may feel lonely as a result of being isolated because of COVID-19.
  • A version of the Grandparent scam where your “grandchild” is stuck overseas and can’t get home because of COVID-19, but with enough money can get a special flight and don’t tell mom or dad.

It’s estimated that one in five Canadian seniors are at risk for financial abuse. If fraud is suspected, it’s important to report it immediately, even if no money has been lost. Suspected fraudulent activity can be reported to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.