I digest a lot of information on a lot of things, everyday. Last week, when a scam artist targeted one of the most precious people in the world to me, I realized that I had neglected to educate those around me on things I had learned.
I don’t live near my senior parents, but ensure I check in several times a week. My dad is 76 and has been battling cancer quite impressively for the past 2 years. He is pretty content at home, watching Judge Judy and reading magazines, perhaps entering a sweepstakes from time to time. My mom, the woman whom I attribute all my “feist” to, is 72 and works part time (Judge Judy just isn’t her thing).
Last week, my mom called me concerned over a phone call my father had received just moments before.
She was unaware of the details of the call until she walked into the room and saw my father, wallet open on the kitchen counter, reading off a string of numbers to the person on the other end of the phone. Immediately sensing something was amiss she instructed him to hang up immediately, but it was too late. You see, a scam artist had already taken the info he needed from my sick, elderly father.
The scammer had told my dad that he had won the lottery. A Lotto 649 win actually, approximately 2 million dollars. My dad, unfortunately more trusting and eager than I’d like to admit, accepted the exciting news and was told more details would arrive by mail – the “official documentation”. All the caller needed in order to validate my dad was who he said he was? My dad’s banking information and date of birth.
Approximately 5 minutes had passed since my dad hung up and my mom called, distraught. I asked her for the number displayed on the phone, wanting to give the scamming “lottery official” a phone call myself.
No official business name was given upon answering the phone, just a simple “Hello?” from a man with a heavy accent. I explained, calmly but with a hopeful anticipation in my voice, that I was just calling to verify the big prize my father had won, and would love further information to share with our excited family. He tried to get me off the phone (he was “on the other line”) and then hung up on me “accidentally”.
Then he called me back (shame on me for not blocking my number upon calling).
The subsequent phone calls were the stuff of watchdog television gold. I asked him again to explain where the win was from. “Lotto 649 Max” he said. I told him that was peculiar since the Western Canada Lottery Corporation never phones people to advise them of a win (when is the last time you gave the clerk at 7-11 your name AND phone number upon buying a ticket?), but he insisted it was legit. When I questioned why he was calling from a number based in South Carolina (likely a spoofing number, this con was probably not even on our continent) he explained that “the lottery had hired a third party” for work like this.
The scammer showed absolutely no remorse, nor any concern when I made it clear I had called his bluff and had already contacted the police. He was calm, patronizing. In fact, at the end of our fourth conversation (he kept calling me back) he had a brilliant idea. “You seem like a smart lady,” he sneered, “are you on Facebook? We could make money together, sweetie.”
Oh yes he did.
I told him in very non-polite terms what I thought of his idea and hung up on him.
As victorious as I felt at having told him off, I knew that I was just one of hundreds…thousands…of people he and his cohorts encounter in a day. I’m probably one of the few who are able to get wise to a scam like this within minutes, having the chance to put a stop to the actions taken by the con. But even so, I wasn’t fast enough.
My parents called their bank after getting off the phone with me, as I instructed them to. They reported the phone call to the RCMP. However, they learned at their bank appointment the next morning that within 20 minutes of the con’s call to my dad, $2000 had been taken out of his account (thank goodness for daily limits!)
Since that day, we have taken the appropriate steps to protect my dad’s accounts and his identity. But what happens when we don’t walk in on every senior’s phone call? What about the elderly grandmother who keeps her “prize” a secret so she can show her whole family the cheque when it comes in the mail? This scenario happens every day – bank accounts depleted by a con artist tucked safe and sound in a foreign land. A scammer with no heart or conscience.
This is where I feel like I failed. As triumphant as I am at having stopped this con in his tracks with my quick actions, I didn’t have that talk with my parents ahead of time to warn them about people like this. Statistics from the Canadian Anti-Fraud Center show that con artists primarily target Canadians between the ages of 60-to-69-years-old. Because 80 per cent of all mass-market scams are now committed on the Internet, I made the mistake of thinking my parents were safe because they don’t own a computer.
The golden rule is to never give out your personal banking information over the phone. Ever. This simple piece of advice may have been enough to protect my dad from this con. It seems like obvious information, but when you’re home in the middle of the afternoon and a slick person calls you with news that will change your life, its not always top of mind. Yet, that old adage always applies – if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
So be aware, my friends. Share this story with your elderly parents and grandparents. Remind them that lottery wins don’t come in a phone call. Tell them that they should never give out banking information on the phone and let them know that if they think they fell for a scam, speak out. You will be there to help. Often times, seniors are too embarrassed to tell their kids that they may have fallen for a scam, and the results of not sharing that suspicion can be disastrous.
Ways to Report Fraud:
Toll Free: 1-888-495-8501
Toll Free Fax: 1-888-654-9426
The Identity Theft and Identity Fraud Victim Assistance Guide on the RCMP website offers a great list of tips and processes to follow if you suspect you or someone you love has given a con your financial or personal info.