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Public urged to report Internet, phone scammers; Canadians bilked of $69M in 2014

Nearly $69 million was stolen from unsuspecting Canadians in 2014, and as Fraud Prevention Month begins, OPP is looking to see that number curbed dramatically.

A news conference was held Tuesday morning at OPP General Headquarters as the force and the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC) outlined the latest trends in fraud.

Last year, 66% of Canadian-based mass-marketing fraud scams happened to victims online. The majority of the victims were between the ages of 50 and 70. Ninety per cent of frauds, police say, are perpetrated by organized crime.

The three most common types of fraud last year were the service scam (when someone calls from “Microsoft” saying your computer has a virus), the prize scam (any sort of sweepstakes or contest you did not enter) and the emergency scam (where a “family member” is in distress and needs money). However, the type of fraud that cost people the most amount of money was the romance scam.

“It’s one of the ones that concerns us; it affects people’s self-esteem,” said RCMP Insp. Cameron Miller.

The romance scam is rooted in finding love online. The victims are led to believe the people they are communicating with are pure and true in their romantic intentions. That is not the case, however, and, usually, that is not revealed until thousands of dollars have been lost on gifts or plane tickets for flights never taken.

Seniors are particularly susceptible to the romance scam and the emergency scam. Formerly known as the grandparent scam, the emergency scam preys on seniors, particularly those who would do anything to help their grandchildren. The call is simple: A voice on the other end of the line impersonates a grandson or granddaughter, saying he or she is in trouble. The grandparent is told to send money and not try to contact the grandchild because there is no way to reach him or her. That’s something grandparents need to put out of their mind.

“There’s always a way to reach somebody; there’s always a way to contact somebody,” Miller said. “Verify who they are first, that it is your grandson or granddaughter. Once you can verify and validate, you could be providing support. But a lot of times, it is a scam.”

The grandparents are the kind of people primarily helped by the CAFC and volunteers such as Brock Godfrey.

Godfrey is a senior volunteer with the CAFC, a role he’s held for nearly two decades. While he spends most of his time now making presentations to seniors’ groups and service clubs, he still provides one-on-one assistance with senior citizens who have been, or are being, defrauded.

Originally based out of North Bay, Godfrey was one of the first “SeniorBusters,” an offshoot of the Phonebusters group that eventually morphed into the CAFC.

“These are seniors helping seniors. A lot of times, it works much better to have a senior help another senior as opposed to a young person helping a senior,” Miller said. “It gives them peer support and peer mentoring as well. It’s a great service to us.”

Police encourage people to take back the Internet from the fraudsters, urging the public to participate in social-media conversations to access tips and other resources to identify and report fraud. A collection of hashtags were unveiled during the news release, including #dontbeavictim #fraudprevention and #OPPtips.

While a lot of money is lost each year, OPP Deputy Commissioner Scott Tod noted there seems to be less public concern about fraud. Spreading the message that prevalent fraud is in Canada might help change that.

“One to 5% of people actually report fraud,” Tod said. “Although we believe crime is being reduced in many categories, I don’t think we really have an understanding (of) how big fraud is in Canada.”

People need to be encouraged to recognize fraud in order to stop it, Tod said, but he admitted little money is recovered once it is stolen under fraudulent circumstances.

“In the frauds that we talk about, through mass-marketing fraud, very little money is ever recovered,” Tod said. “Generally, it’s a very small amount — probably less than a per cent.”

While that might discourage some from reporting fraud, police need more people to come forward so anti-fraud initiatives can have the data and information they need to provide further protection to potential victims.

They also need to be diligent. The message Godfrey sends to seniors when he speaks is simple.

“We’re telling them not to be so trusting,” he said. “We just have to get the message out. We have to give more examples.”

“People generally want to believe other people,” Miller said. “And a lot of our victims, we find, we have a lot of trouble communicating with them that there are people out there who are not telling the truth at the other end of the Internet.”

OPP will release four weekly, topic-specific media releases on various criminal activities as part of Fraud Prevention Month, beginning Thursday.

If you suspect you or someone you know has been a victim of fraud, contact police or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS (8477).

The Orillia Packet & Times