It has become sadly common to hear news stories about Canadian seniors falling victim to predatory telephone or email scams.
Canadians lose millions of dollars to the activities of scammers each year, and older adults are at most likely demographic to be targeted by scammers. Most at risk are seniors who have poor health or are socially isolated, especially within three years of a drastic life change, like losing their spouse or moving to a new home.
If that sounds like someone you know, you’re not alone. Just about everyone has at least one person in their life who is vulnerable. We encourage you to take these steps to protect your loved ones from scam and fraud, even if it means having tough conversations.
Why Do Seniors Fall for Scams?
The stories that make the news are often ones where the scam in question seems obvious. For every person who expresses sympathy for the victim, there’s another who wonders aloud how anyone could fall for it (often remarking that the same thing could never happen to them).
It’s easy to assume that seniors who fall for scams are those whose cognition is impaired by conditions like Alzheimer’s Disease. Although that is true in some cases (research shows that financial judgement is often the first kind of judgement to fade with dementia), it’s not the only reason why seniors fall for scams. There’s more to it than that, and you should not assume your own relatives cannot become a victim just because dementia is not a factor.
Scammers know what they’re doing; chances are, it’s not their first day on the job. They know what to say to gain someone’s trust.
In many cases, scammers approach seniors with kindness, which works against seniors who are alone and longing for attention. There are also recent examples of scammers using fear and aggression to make the victim feel trapped, which is effective when the victim feels they have no one to ask for help.
How to Protect Your Loved Ones From Being Scammed
- Have a talk before it becomes an issue. The first step to protecting your loved ones is to broach the subject before anything happens to them. This can be tough; no one wants to make someone feel like a possible ‘dupe’. But raising awareness of scam activity can help your loved ones protect themselves if they get the call. Try using current events to open the discussion, asking if your loved one has heard about a recent scam in the news, and then talk about how the victim could have stopped the scammer in their tracks.
- Help them have an active social life. Seniors are more vulnerable to scammers when they are cut off from family and friends. If you are too busy or too far away to spend time with your loved one, take steps to make sure there are other people checking in. You can enroll them in a seniors’ group, ask neighbours to check in, or have a personal support worker provide companionship.
- Be aware of scams in your region. The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre publishes information about scam activity across Canada. Watch for news of scams close to home so you know if scammer are targeting seniors in your area.
- Replace their landline with a cell phone. Landlines are targeted more frequently than cell phones when it comes to telephone scams. In addition, you can add your loved one’s cell phone number to Canada’s National Do Not Call List; that way, they will know that any sales calls they receive are not legitimate.
- Monitor their financial activity online.
What If I Suspect My Loved One Was Scammed?
This can be a very difficult topic to confront. Approach the subject with sympathy, not condemnation, and be prepared to explain why you believe the call or email was a scam.
Sometimes, an older adult realizes they have fallen for a scam but is too embarrassed to talk about it with a relative. If you suspect this is the case, consider asking a trusted friend, like a doctor or a religious leader, to broach the conversation.