Seniors more likely to be victims of fraud

Ottawa seniors need to be more aware of fraudsters who want to cheat them out of their money, because they are defrauded at a much higher rate than any other age group, police say.

Anyone can be a target, but seniors come from a generation when people trusted each other more, and it makes them better targets, says Ottawa police Sgt. Robert Greaves, an expert on fraud.

Violent crime rates are generally going down, but frauds have become increasingly common, says Const. Nathan Hoedeman, the officer in charge of the Somerset Community Police Centre.

“People tend to be more afraid of someone snatching their purse,” he says. “But, it’s much more likely for them to be a victim of fraud.” 

Technology is a big reason for the increase in frauds, says Greaves: “It’s much easier for a bad guy to be on the other end of a computer, or on a phone where they don’t have to be face-to-face with a potential target.”

Even the most intelligent, capable seniors can be duped says Oris Retallack, executive director of the Council on Aging of Ottawa. Seniors do not like to hang up on callers, she says, but the longer they stay on the line, the easier it is for a fraudster to trick them. 

“You tell seniors to hang up when they get a suspicious phone call, and they say: But that’s not polite,” she says. “It’s a sin to break those values; to say you’ve lived a certain way for 80 years but now you have to change to something that isn’t as nice.”

The best way to fight con artists, Retallack says, is with a community effort, where friends and family keep an eye out for their elders.

As part of the Fraud Prevention Month campaign this March, Ottawa police have stepped up education campaigns geared to seniors. The Ottawa Police Service website now has information on all types of fraud from door to door scams to identity theft. It also has many links on how to guard against fraud.

Fraud is hard to combat, so the best tool is education, says Greaves. If seniors are alert to potential frauds, they can educate the people around them too.

Greaves says he regularly talks to Ottawa seniors groups. “We’re trying to get the word out as much as possible,” he says.

Greaves works closely with the West Ottawa Rotary Club on their ABCs of Fraud Program. Over 14,500 people have seen ABCs of fraud presentations since 2001, he says.

Hoedeman says police need to give people the tools to protect themselves, but solutions that come from the community work best.

“It’s more empowering to know that solutions can come from ordinary people in the neighbourhood and not just people in uniforms, like me,” he says.

Greaves says it’s hard to tell if fraud is any more or less common in Centretown than in other communities. But, the density of the housing here is convenient for door-to-door scams, he says. “They can reach many more people in an hour than say Kanata or Orleans,” he adds.

Seniors groups that want an ABCs of Fraud presentation should call 613-564-5555.