Grandparent Scam Surfaces in Northwestern Ontario

When it comes to fraud, there are few scams that are more sinister than the one known as the ‘grandparent’ scam. The Rainy River District Detachment of the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) is warning residents that our District is not exempt from such crimes.

Over the past month, a deceitful, yet skilled pair of fraudsters telephoned older adults in our area claiming to be calling on behalf of the victim’s adult grandchild. The first male posed as a lawyer claiming he represented their grandchild currently in police custody and facing serious impaired driving-related offences. The fraudster was quick to develop a rapport with his victims as he referred to the grandchild by name.  A second fraudster then got on the phone posing as the grandchild who pled with the victim to send cash quickly to cover lawyer expenses while begging them not to divulge the information to parents.

The fraudsters called the same victims again a few weeks later. This time, the fraudster posing as a lawyer, reported the grandchild was now being sued as a result of the initial infraction and additional money was required to cover legal fees.

After a few more weeks passed, the fraudsters called back again and explained restitution was now required through a court process as the grandchild had caused damage to property during the bogus impaired driving infraction.

Fraudsters are tricksters, they are well versed and aim to obscure facts with intent to confuse and panic their victims. To make the story seem more credible in this circumstance, the caller posed as a lawyer hired to defend the grandchild while the second fraudster posing as the grandson strategized to add a sense of urgency and panic. As a result, money was forwarded through a priority mail service.

Police investigation revealed the fraudsters gave an uninhabited home address that was listed with a realty company. Sending money through priority mail services allowed the criminals to track delivery and intercept the money with accuracy and remain undetected.

The Rainy River District OPP are reminding families there are ways to protect each other from falling victim to this type of scam:

1. Have a conversation with loved ones and become informed about the ‘grandparent’ scam. Plan a proactive strategy before it happens, practice some key message so it is easier to think quickly and respond (ie. Hang up or tell the fraudster that you intend to contact police to verify legitimacy of the call and no cash will be forwarded anywhere).

2. Don’t worry about being rude! It is not rude to hang up the phone on a suspected criminal. Go ahead and hang up and then talk to a family member or trusted friend about the phone call.

3. Never offer information to the caller. If fraudsters prompt you with a question like, “Do you know who this is?” simply say no and have the caller tell you.

4. Press your caller for details. Slow the conversation down. If the person on the other end of the phone is explaining his/her story, ask them questions about their specific location or have them repeat their story. A criminal will have a hard time recalling details or coming up with them on the spot.

5. Ask the caller a few personal questions that a real grandchild could answer but an imposter could not.

6. After you hang up, always verify the story by calling the parents or other relatives of the “grandchild”.

7. Never send money to someone under uncertain conditions as it is nearly impossible to recover or trace money that has been wired or sent through mail services.

8. Never provide your credit card number over the telephone or Internet unless you are sure about who you’re giving it to.

9. If you’ve been caught in a scam like this one, call your local police department. Bank staff are aware of these kinds of scams and are trained to pay attention if a customer makes an unusual transaction – for example, withdrawing more money than usual. However, as the owner of the account, you are ultimately responsible for any funds that you withdraw from your own bank account. That’s why it’s especially important to ask questions, consult with your financial/banking experts to seek more information and first to verify it is not a scam.