Helping Protect Seniors From Fraud and Identity Theft

Reading time: 3 minutes

Highlights:

  • Fraud is the top crime against older Canadians
  • Shame or embarrassment may prevent seniors from reporting fraud
  • Educate the seniors in your life of the risks and steps they can take to help prevent fraud

While identity theft and fraud can strike people of all ages, senior citizens may be particularly vulnerable. 

Fraud is the top crime against older Canadians, according to the intergovernmental Federal/Provincial/Territorial Ministers Responsible for Seniors. Reasons for that may include that seniors may be home more often during the day to answer the door or the telephone, according to the organization. They may also be more trusting and may not have family or friends nearby to ask for a second opinion.  

Are the seniors in your life aware of fraud and identity theft risks? Here are some frauds and scams that may target senior citizens:

Identity theft 

A scammer may try to get information such as a bank card or personal identity number, credit card number, health card number, or a driver’s license or Social Insurance number. They can then apply for credit cards, take out loans or withdraw funds in the person’s name.

What you can do: If their wallets are lost or stolen or mail is missing, encourage seniors to report it to banks and credit card companies as well as law enforcement. Help them find a secure place for personal documents and encourage them to leave items at home they may not need, such as their SIN card or passport.

Credit or debit card fraud 

Fraudsters may use the credit or debit card number, a copy of the card, or the actual card to make purchases or withdraw money from seniors’ accounts. 

What you can do: Encourage seniors to keep their card in sight, memorize their personal identification numbers (PINs) and shield their hands if entering a PIN on a cash machine. Caution them to not share their PIN with others, and to use a cross-cut shredder to dispose of old bills or statements.

Phone or door-to-door scams 

Scammers may use fake telemarketing calls or in-person visits to get money or personal information from senior citizens. The caller or visitor may offer a prize or money in exchange for a “good faith” payment; tell a senior citizen they must wire or send money because a relative is in this hospital; or pose as a fake charity soliciting donations. In a “grandparent scam,” a caller will pretend to be a grandchild needing money for an emergency, while other callers may claim to be from the government, bank or credit union.

What you can do:  Educate the seniors in your life about these scams and let them know it’s best to never provide personal information over the phone. If they are concerned a caller is actually a relative in need, encourage them to contact the person first to verify before giving any information or sending money – and not to be persuaded by aggressive tactics. They can tell solicitors that they don’t buy from anyone who visits or calls them unannounced and ask for information in writing.

Show them how to research charities online before donating; all registered charities in Canada are overseen by the Canada Revenue Agency and listed in its database.

Online and email scams 

Scammers may use pop-up browser windows to warn of a virus or tout virus-scanning software, prompting victims to buy and download a fake anti-virus program – or even an actual virus that may open the information on their computer to scammers. Also, phishing emails may appear to be from a legitimate company or financial institution, asking them to log in to their accounts.

What you can do: Explain the risks of pop-up windows warning of a “virus” or other computer issue, and help them install and update reputable anti-virus protection on their computers. Teach them how to recognize phishing emails – for instance, they can hover over the sender’s address to see if it matches that of the company. Encourage them not to log in to their accounts from an email link, but go to the company or financial institution’s web site directly or contact them to verify a communication is legitimate.

Fraud victims 

If a senior citizen you know has been scammed, encourage them to report it and not to be afraid or embarrassed – everyone is at risk for fraud and identity theft. They can report fraud to their local police and the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.

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