Fraud of the Week: Emergency Scams

Your grandson is calling and he is in trouble. Or is he?

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Fraud of the Week: Emergency Scams

It’s Fraud Prevention Month (#FPM2017) and the Halton Regional Police Service (HRPS) announces its second of four scheduled Frauds of the Week: Emergency Scams. Emergency scams typically target older individuals and play upon their emotions to steal their money.

According to the Better Business Bureau of Canada, the total amount lost to emergency scams in 2016 was $1.9 million. Since January 1, 2017, eight to ten victims in Halton alone have been defrauded of funds. One of these victims lost $14,000. Like romance scams, actual figures are believed to be much higher as victims often feel too ashamed to report fraud to police.

“Emergency scams work well because fraudsters throw victims into a state of mini-crisis,” according to Staff Sergeant Chris Lawson of the Regional Fraud Unit. “When this happens, the ability to think clearly or assess a situation is hampered and the first inclination – to help – kicks in.”

In a typical emergency scam scenario, an older person receives a phone call from someone claiming to be their grandchild, neighbour or friend of the family. The caller goes on to say that they are in some kind of trouble (e.g. car accident, stranded in a foreign country or in jail) and need money immediately. Some victims may get calls from two people, one purporting to be their loved one and the other a police officer or a lawyer. The caller will ask potential victims a series of leading questions which prompts them to volunteer personal information. Callers say that they don’t want others to find out what has happened. Typically, they will ask for money to be wired through a money transfer company.

More recently, victims have been asked for gift cards, known as “steam cards” as payment instead of money. In this variation, victims are asked to purchase the cards and read their serial codes to the caller over the phone.

Victims often don’t verify the caller’s story until after the money has been sent or the gift card information shared and cashed in.

The following tips to protect yourself from emergency scams have been provided courtesy of the Better Business Bureau and Royal Canadian Mounted Police:

  1. Remember: Scammers count on the fact that victims will want to act quickly to help their loved one in an emergency.
  2. Caution: Never send money to anyone you don’t know and trust. Verify the person’s identity before you take any steps to help.
  3. Think: Don’t give out any personal information to the caller.
  4. Investigate: Ask the person questions that only your loved one would be able to answer. Call someone you both know to verify the story. Scammers can learn a lot about you from social media, or while talking to you on the phone.
  5. Ask yourself: Does the caller’s story make sense?
  6. Important: Police will never ask you for money, steam cards (an electronic gift card) or other forms of payment.

Anyone with information pertaining to a fraud or any other crime is asked to contact Halton  Regional Police Fraud Bureau Intake Office at 905-465-8741 or Fraud@haltonpolice.ca. Tips can also be submitted anonymously to Crime Stoppers “See something, Hear something, Say something” at 1-800-222-8477 (TIPS), through the web at www.haltoncrimestoppers.ca, or by texting “Tip201” with your message to 274637 (crimes).

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