Seniors easy prey for online scams
An Internet connection, the click of a mouse and a scam artist is all it takes to ruin people’s lives says Sgt. Jacques Boucher an investigator with RCMP’s Atlantic Region Technological Crime Unit in St. John’s.
Boucher said many online frauds and scams target seniors.
Older adults haven’t grown up with the technology like the younger generation, he says.
“You met people in-person and you tended to trust people at face value. (Seniors) have carried that trust over to the cyber world,” Boucher said during a recent interview at RCMP headquarters in St. John’s.
One of the most common online scams involves an alleged overbilling contract where the fraudster says they need to funnel money through a Canadian account.
“On the surface they make it seem like there’s no risk to you, that all they want is your information and your bank account. But ultimately, at some point in time, they’re going to want money from you or they’re going to send you a cheque and ask you to cash that cheque and send money back to them.”
Boucher said the victim has no way of knowing that the cheque is fraudulent.
There’s also a scam targeting seniors where an e-mail is sent from someone claiming to be a close relative, such as a grandchild, needing money.
The information, which can appear legitimate, is often gleaned from social media sites that youth frequent, Boucher says.
It’s difficult to prosecute online scams and frauds as the con is often sitting behind a computer on the other side of the world, he says.
Victims may lose several thousand dollars to a scam artist. However, an investigation requiring assistance from other law enforcement agencies would cost tens of thousands of dollars, says Boucher.
Even then, there’s little chance of prosecution.
“I’ve investigated them where one individual lost many thousand dollars but it ended up being a dead-end over in Spain.” Boucher said people have also become victims of crime by starting online romantic relationships with individuals from other countries. Within a couple of e-mails, the person claims they want to move closer to the would-be victim but needs money for the move. Money is sent but that’s the end of the relationship, he notes.
Boucher and other RCMP and Royal Newfoundland Constabulary officers recently presented some of these scenarios during presentations to seniors about Internet frauds and scams.
The sessions were hosted by the province’s Seniors Resource Centre’s Elder Abuse Committee in partnership with the Coalition Against Violence – Avalon East, the RCMP, RNC and the Credit Counselling Services of Atlantic Canada. Funding for the seminars has been provided by the Department of Justice Canada.
Boucher is originally from Bathurst, New Brunswick. He joined the RCMP in 1989 and was stationed in Newfoundland where he spent the first decade of his career. He then returned to New Brunswick for six years and started investigating computer crimes in 2002 in Fredericton. After four years, he went to police college in Ottawa where he spent several years teaching computer crime courses. In 2009 he transferred back to Newfoundland.
While it’s impossible to determine whether people are legitimate when corresponding online, Boucher suggests people take a “no trust” attitude when corresponding with those they don’t know.
It’s important as well, he said, to contact police if you believe you’ve been scammed. Charges may not be possible but the information will help police in getting word out to the public about the scam, he said.
The information is also valuable to the RCMP he said in educating members about such crimes.
“As much as there’s a personal sense of embarrassment because you’ve been taken advantage of, our strongest tool in trying to end this is to educate people.”