Scam artists taking seniors for a ride

Cathie Roy / Associate Publisher
July 3, 2014 09:34 AM

Sarah Duro, Gibsons branch manager; Rick Cooney, chief credit and risk officer from the Sunshine Coast Credit Union; and Sandy McBride of SunCu financial services have some sage advice to help seniors avoid being the targets of scam artists.

Name a scam and there’s probably been a senior on the Sunshine Coast targeted by it. For along with the telephone and mail, the computer — the Pandora’s box of our times — makes it easy for scoundrels of all manners to contact us.

The list of seven reported shams supplied by Const. Tracy Dubnyk of the Sunshine Coast RCMP includes the ever-popular grandparent scheme.

“Granny, I’ve been in a car accident, and if I don’t pay the tow company right away, I’ll never see my car again,” says a girl’s voice.

“Annie, is that you? Oh my gosh, are you hurt?” Granny asks.

Well, of course it’s ‘Annie.’ But by the time Granny realizes she’s been taken for a ride, the money is in the fraud specialist’s hands and nothing can be done.

Another sleazy trick involves the computer. A nice young man pretending to be a government or financial institution agent calls to let Grandpa know his computer security has been compromised.

“Just turn on the computer and follow my exact instructions,” the calm voice advises.

By the time Grandpa figures out he’s been the victim of an identity thief, he’s received a huge credit card bill and the crook is long gone.

These scams and others in the same ilk are played out every day on the Sunshine Coast. Over the years local RCMP and the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre have investigated all of them and more. And in most cases, there is no happy resolution.

So what can seniors do? First of all, don’t be afraid to hang up on anyone whose voice you don’t recognize. Don’t volunteer information. The caller is on a fishing expedition; don’t make his or her job easy. Con artists don’t deserve courtesy.

Never give someone remote access to your computer. And after your experience, let the police know what’s happened. Even if you haven’t played their game, the crooks will continue until someone does. By advising the law, there’s an opportunity for the public to be warned.

However despicable these frauds may be, the fact that strangers perpetuate them can take some of the sting out of being duped. What has the potential to hurt much more are thefts committed by family members or persons with a fiduciary duty to the senior. What happens then?

In a small community such as ours, it would seem easy for financial abuse of a senior to come to light. But several factors of modern life put short shrift to that theory.

The proliferation of ATMs and the number of financial outlets in a small geographical area can make it easy for a relative or caregiver to withdraw funds. And as long as the daily cash threshold isn’t reached, no immediate alarm bells are triggered. Also complicating the matter is the need for discretion.

“The big piece here is to help people with their financial transactions. They don’t want us butting into their personal business,” Rick Cooney, chief credit and risk officer for the Sunshine Coast Credit Union, explained in an interview.
“There really is no formal training for our tellers to spot [individual cases of fraud],” Sarah Duro, Gibsons branch manager of the Credit Union, said.

“What will trigger concern is if [the transaction] doesn’t fit the pattern of what we know about the member,” she added.

Some government regulations make it difficult for large-scale fraud to take place. The anti money-laundering laws require the reporting of any cash transactions larger than $10,000.

If a certain transaction does cause concern for a teller, he or she would speak to a supervisor who, after reviewing the history of the client, might request a face-to-face meeting with the client.

One of the ways a senior can protect himself or herself is through a financial plan. For Sandy McBride, a SunCu financial advisor, this makes the most sense.

“For anyone who is reluctant to go ahead with a financial plan, I always say, ‘Give me the exact date of your death,’” McBride said.

All three financial officers emphasized the need for seniors to make decisions when they’re physically and mentally able to.

“Every family is dysfunctional to some degree. If we know what [the senior’s] wishes are, it makes helping them much easier,” Cooney said.

Legal documents such as an enduring general power of attorney can be helpful. Without the enduring power, a power of attorney (POA) will be voided by mental incapacity. Also it’s possible to name several attorneys.

“It’s important to realize, as well, that you must have the mental capacity to understand the powers that you are granting. Your notary public or lawyer will have to ascertain you do understand the powers given and will most likely want to meet with you alone to ensure it is your decision, that there is no one coercing you into naming them attorney,” Sam Simpson, a Gibsons’ notary public, explained.

If the document was drawn up many years ago and the relationship between the individuals has changed, it’s probably time to review the POA. The financial folks watch carefully when a POA is active.

The person using the document can’t be making changes that impact the estate or ownership of assets.

“We’ll ask them, ‘why are you doing this?’” Cooney said.

But always the financial institution treads lightly.

“Ultimately it always comes down to the voice of reason. If we push too hard, people will just move their accounts,” Cooney said.

“If there is any suspicion of financial abuse, the matter should be brought to the police. [The senior] could also advise another family member who can take it to the police, but we still need to interview the main witness. The senior can report [the financial abuse] to a family member or a health care worker or RCMP, but often they do not as they are embarrassed or in denial. They are also fearful of family threats, isolation or violence,” Dubnyk said in an email.

Dubnyk thinks the incidence of seniors being victimized by financial fraudsters is on the rise. She attributed the increased use of computers and society problems to contributing to the problems.

“Boomerang family members, 50-somethings who’ve lost their jobs in the city or become addicts of one kind or another come back to live with their parent. Pretty soon the senior is going to the bank daily to take out money,” Dubnyk said.

Those are the kind of happenings that should trigger questions in an outsider’s mind.

Watch and ask questions, Dubnyk advised. Follow up your gut feeling with facts, and then act on them.

One organization, the Sunshine Coast Community Response Network, of which Dubnyk is a member, works to prevent all senior abuse. The group’s mandate is to bring together community and government agencies, local businesses and other concerned networks to prevent and respond to abuse and neglect. By being good neighbours and following up on any concerns we have about seniors, we can make the Sunshine Coast a safer place for all, Dubnyk said.

© Coast Reporter

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