'We can't leave these people to be victims': South Okanagan-Similkameen RCMP detachment commanders warn of senior scams

Senior scams on the rise

RCMP in the South Okanagan-Similkameen are concerned about a rise in phone and online frauds targeting vulnerable members of local communities, especially seniors.

During a quarterly presentation to the Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen board Thursday, detachment commanders from around the region noted an uptick in scammers using impersonation, intimidation and other fear tactics to attempt to get money, sometimes successfully.

The typical scams include impersonation of RCMP or the Canada Revenue Agency. A popular one in the region has been a scammer pretending to be a grandchild, niece or nephew saying they are in legal trouble and need bail money.

"I can say that's not a traditional way of releasing prisoners, is having someone call a grandmother," Staff-Sgt. Bob Vatamaniuck, acting South Okanagan detachment commander, told the RDOS board.

"I really encourage your constituents to not answer those calls, not to entertain those people. And especially if they start asking for payments in gift cards of any kind. No one takes payments in gift cards, so the red flags must go up if people start asking you to go to their drugstores or grocery stores and asking for gift cards."

In Osoyoos, fraud was the seventh highest call for service in the first quarter of 2023, and the number of calls rose 60 per cent when compared year-over-year.

Sgt. Jason Bayda, local detachment commander, said the majority of cases have been telephone and computer frauds targeting individuals who may not be particularly good with computers, in many cases elderly people.

"I can see firsthand how difficult it would be for an elderly person when they're called and asked for money, they'll just follow the directions of that person on the phone," Bayda said.

"I think it's really incumbent upon family members to speak to their elderly loved ones and help them with their banking and help them navigate around these these types of phone calls because we can't leave these people to be victims of these crimes when they really are easily preventable, as long as they have the education from all of us, including family."

Sgt. Bob Hughes of Princeton said the trend echoes in his community as well. Fraud is up 80 per cent year-over-year this quarter.

"[Scammers will say] 'Hey, you owe us $3,000 in taxes. The best way to get this paid to us is to go to Save On Foods and get us Apple gift cards,'" Hughes said, adding the scammers will tend to lean on a sense of emergency to induce panic in their victims.

"And people say, 'Okay that sounds good,' because they're not computer savvy and they don't know how to transfer money."

Hughes said they are working hard to educated the public about these types of scams, and are trying their best to investigate the perpetrators, which is not an easy task.

"They usually come from overseas or deep south USA. And you can hide your IP address so easily. You can download 100 apps on your phone to do it right here if you want to, so that makes that incredibly hard to investigate," Hughes said.

Other local detachments, including Oliver, also reported an increase in fraud instances year-over-year.

Vatamaniuck reiterated that if anyone claiming to be from a government agency is asking for payment in gift cards, hang up the phone. And if any phone or email request for money raises a red flag, hang up and call the local RCMP detachment for confirmation or advice.

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