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Seniors in Haines Junction, Yukon, targeted by 'grandparent scam'

Some people in Haines Junction, Yukon, say they've been targeted by phone scams in recent weeks, with an unknown caller telling them a loved one had been in an accident, and asking for money. (CBC News - image credit)
Some people in Haines Junction, Yukon, say they've been targeted by phone scams in recent weeks, with an unknown caller telling them a loved one had been in an accident, and asking for money. (CBC News - image credit)

A few weeks ago Catherine Millard, a senior who lives in Haines Junction, Yukon, received the sort of phone call most people would dread: she was told by the unknown caller that her husband had just been in a car accident in Whitehorse.

But Millard knew immediately it was a scam. That's because she had lost her husband just weeks earlier.

"I said, 'excuse me, my husband's deceased. I buried him on December the 10th,'" Millard recalled.

"They go, 'no, no, no.' And I said, 'I'm positive. I buried my husband on the 10th.'"

The caller tried to insist that Millard's husband had been in an accident and had been arrested, and seemed to get irritated when Millard didn't believe it.

"And I said, 'you want me to try and go down to Champagne and try to get him out of his grave?''' Millard recalled.

She says the scammer — who knew her late husband's full name — then hung up on her.

Millard says there were other residents in Haines Junction that received similar calls during the next week.

Josephine Boyle, also a senior, says she was with her husband when he received a suspicious phone call around that time. The caller said Boyle's great nephew Justin had been in an accident in Vancouver, and had hit a child while driving to work.

The caller said that the child ended up in an ambulance and that Justin was in jail. Boyle said the caller was asking for $18,000 to hire a lawyer.

Boyle says the scammer was very convincing, even addressing her and her husband as "auntie" and "uncle."

But Boyle says she listened to her intuition. Some things were not adding up. Boyle questioned why the caller was contacting them instead of Justin's parents, and why her nephew would have been immediately jailed.

"Why would you throw somebody in jail? Wouldn't you take him to an ambulance first and check this fellow out first, before throwing him in jail?" Boyle said.

Still, the call stressed her out.

"Later in the afternoon, I phoned Justin's partner to find out if she knew anything — and she was shocked because she was like ... 'Justin is right here, what are you talking about?'" said Boyle.

'Grandparent scam'

Jeff Horncastle, acting client and communications outreach officer at the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, says these sort of scams are called "grandparent scams."

"This involves fraudsters calling seniors, their family members, claiming that the grandchild or loved one was in an accident and been charged with an offence," said Horncastle.

He says scammers will make up stories to convince people to send them money.

He says based on reports, Canadians have lost about $11.3 million dollars to this type of fraud. He says it is one of the organization's most-reported scams.

Horcastle says fraudsters use social media to obtain a victim's personal information.

He also says these scams are getting more sophisticated.

"We have received a lot of reports where the fraudsters will kind of muffle their voice and say that they were in a car accident, they might say they have a broken nose and that is why their voice sounds a little different," said Horncastle.

He says the fraudsters are playing with the victim's emotions, and creating a sense of urgency.

Horncastle advises people to use their intuition if they receive a phone call like that. He suggests calling another family member to verify the caller's story, and to listen for red flags in the conversation — things that don't add up.

The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC) also advises anybody who's been victim of a scam or fraud to report it to police, and also notify the CAFC.