Several local organizations joined forces this week to help to educate seniors and hopefully prevent them from falling victim to a scam.
The Fort Frances Senior Centre held an information session about common scams and cons on Monday afternoon, with speakers from the OPP, Rainy River District Victim Services Program (RRDVSP) and several area financial institutions.
According to Senior Centre manager Cindy Noble, the idea to hold an information session about scams came up rather unexpectedly.
“We were thinking about having the OPP coming and doing something on home safety, which we thought would be good for seniors,” Noble explained.
“But [OPP Constable] Karl [Wilson] happened to come in the same day I was getting ready to phone them and said, 'We want to do cons and scams,' and I thought that's even more important, so we put off the home safety for a couple of months.”
Noble said that although, thankfully, talk of being scammed isn't widespread at the centre, she thought it was still a worthwhile topic to address.
“We've talked about it around the table, like, 'Have you had this phone call or that phone call?'” she said.
“Nobody's been scammed here, that I know of, but we thought we'd put it out there and make sure everyone is aware.”
Const. Karl Wilson and Sgt. Mark Chwastyk of the OPP led the sizeable crowd at the Senior Centre through a presentation that detailed different types of scams and cons employed by criminals with a particular focus on how to recognize them and the best ways to protect themselves against falling victim.
Const. Wilson explained that the aim of the day really came down to raising awareness
“Today, we wanted people to be aware that there are professional scammers who are making big business by taking money from seniors,” he said.
“We wanted, seniors especially for today, but everybody that came to know that these are scams and you can jut hang up and not be a part of it and not lose your money.”
The officers each pulled from their experience in dealing with scammers and con artists, as well as witnessing the impact these scams can have on the victims, to help seniors to understand the courses of action available to them if they recognize they are on the phone with a scammer, or if they have already been scammed.
One of the things Const. Wilson said was that it was important for people who have been scammed, or who think they may be speaking with a scammer, to say something about it, as scammers will often try to intimidate their victims into silence.
“The two things that I would say are hang up the phone and talk to somebody,” he said.
"It may sound legitimate, it may sound real when you're on the phone, but when you talk to somebody you trust, when you talk to your family, your friends or your bank staff, they can put it into perspective because they're the outside eyes looking in and they can say, 'no, that's a scam, I've seen it a lot.'
“It's just that: hang up and talk to someone you trust.”
The OPP also presented a breakdown of the amount of money that scammers trick Canadians out of each year.
Using the available data from the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC) in 2018, Canadians lost more than $97-million dollars in that calendar year alone, with the total number of reported victims in the country around 9,400.
Romance scams, where a scammer will build up a relationship only to eventually demand money from the victim, topped the list of frauds by amount of money lost, coming in at nearly $25-million.
Sgt. Chwastyk explained to the crowd that the numbers for 2019 were higher than those of the previous year.
While Const. Wilson couldn't speak to the specific number of those in the Rainy River District who have been victimized by scams, he warned that it's not as rare as one might think.
“I know there have been individuals who have sent $50,000 or more to different styles of scams, whether it's the romance or extortion or whatever,” he noted.
“But it's big money, even from our district. And it's not just that it's ours and not other places, it's big money across the country, including us.”
Representatives from CIBC, RBC and Alterna Savings also spoke to the crowd about some of the ways to keep their banking information safe from would-be scammers.
CIBC Fort Frances' financial service representative Julie Saunders and financial advisor Sarah Boyd explained that they were happy to attend the session and speak, as they deal with the impact of scams on a daily basis.
“We were here mostly because we have an influx of clients coming in that are affected by fraud,” Saunders said.
“We have a close relationship with the local police and heard of this event happening and so wanted to be really a part of it to help give information to as many people as we can in the community for awareness.”
“Fraud is such a prevalent thing in our area right now, and so many people are affected by it, young and old,” said Boyd.
“Mostly today it's just seniors, but I've gotten the calls, I'm sure you've gotten the calls for the 'CRA' and just wanted to make clients aware of what they should be looking for and just to let them know to come into your branch, go to your bank and ask them. "We're trained to see what's going on, we can let them know and potentially save them thousands of dollars.”
The OPP and the bank representatives warned that recovering the money in many scams is difficult, if not impossible, as they ask for cash, money orders or gift cards, all things that are impossible to retrieve once they have been collected by the scammers.
RBC Small Business Accounts Manager Ramiro Mattias noted that the sooner someone comes into their bank if they feel they have been scammed, the better their chances are, but there are no guarantees.
“There is ways where the bank can step in and cancel a cheque,” Mattias said.
“If there's enough time, if they use a credit card most often we're able to stop it and reverse it, but when they're falsely giving out [their banking info, or if they click on a link in an email . . .”
Overall, the presenters at the information session hoped to help raise an awareness going forward so that seniors might be better armed to deal with a potential scammer the next time they encounter a suspicious phone call, email or deal that sounds a little too good to be true.
“The more we have these on a regular basis, the more people will be aware that those things are out there,” Mattias said.
“And it's more top of mind. It's not just something you hear about that only happens in the big city . . . it's happening right in your back yard.”
For more information about scams, how to recognize them and what to do if you believe you've fallen victim to one, call the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre at 888-495-8501 or visit their website at www.antifraudcentre.com