St. Lawrence seniors hear scam stories from fraud experts

Dennis Hanagan — 

Seniors heard how not to be scammed out of their money and savings when Toronto Police and representatives from the Ontario Securities Commission spoke at a February town hall meeting in the St. Lawrence Neighbourhood.

Scammers can get jail terms and be fined up to $1 million. The meeting—presented by the 51 Division Community Police Liaison Committee (CPLC) and the St. Lawrence Neighbourhood Association (SLNA)—was geared toward seniors because scam artists find them prime targets.

Allister Field with the Ontario Securities Commission (OSC) said being the victim of fraud can have big impacts on a person’s life, leading to strained relationships with relatives and friends, depression and mental health issues.

He said some fraud victims have complicated their situation because they’ve borrowed money from relatives or friends to make an investment only to realize later they’ve been scammed along with their lender.

The enforcement branch of the OSC is composed of lawyers, forensic accountants, support staff and investigators. Their website is

Investigators have different terms to describe different kinds of schemes fraudsters use. In the “affinity” approach fraudsters invoke unwitting third parties to use their personal connections to draw in more gullible investors.

In a “Ponzi scheme” the scammer pays returns to investors with money from new investors rather than from profit earned in a legitimate business.

The “boiler-room” scheme involves a room full of people making endless phone calls using false names trying to sell bogus stocks. The “pump and dump” gets potential victims excited enough to hand over money to invest in a company that doesn’t exist.

Field’s basic advice to seniors was if they don’t know the person calling is to “just hang up [and] don’t talk to these people”—especially don’t give out personal or credit card information.

Dt. Gail Regan with Toronto Police financial crimes unit told about romance scams. The fraudster uses charm and compassion to gain the victim’s trust then asks for money, sent by Western Union or a money gram, to help a sick relative or to travel to an important business meeting.

Regan told of a middle-age Vancouver teacher who borrowed $20,000 to give to a fraud artist who romanced her. “It sounds crazy, but it does happen,” Regan said, adding that the average a romance victim loses is about $14,000.

In 2011 statistics show more than 700 grandparents were victimized by the grandparent scheme; that’s when a young person calls to say he or she has been in a car accident and needs money to get home. Regan estimated that only about 10% of these victims report the crime.

About receiving calls from the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) demanding credit card info for unpaid taxes, remember this: Seniors heard that the CRA doesn’t make phone calls.