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Protect Yourself From Grandparent Scams

Grandparent scams are on the rise across Canada. A CTV report states that in 2021, the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre received reports of 379 cases involving 115 victims, with more than $1.7 million in losses. But since the start of 2022, the centre says there has been 674 cases involving 273 victims and resulting in $2.7 million in losses.

So, what is a grandparent scam? A grandparent scam can also be known as an emergency scam, according to police. A fraudster typically contacts an older adult claiming to be a grandchild or friend of a grandchild who is in crisis, either in an accident or in jail, and needs money. Police say seniors can sometimes get a second call from someone posing as a police officer or lawyer, who tells them not to talk about the matter with anyone. The fraudster then directs the victim to go to their bank to get the funds, says a CBC report.

How come these imposters chose to call you?

Sometimes they contact people randomly. They also use marketing lists, telephone listings, and information from social networking sites, obituaries and other sources. Sometimes they hack into people’s email accounts and send messages to everyone in their contact list.

How do these scammers know the names of your friends or relatives?

In some cases they don’t. For instance, the scammer may say “Hi grandma,” hoping that you actually have a grandson. If you ask, “David, is that you?” the scammer will say “Yes!” Often these crooks will call in the middle of the night and take advantage of the fact that you may not be awake enough to ask more questions and you may not want to disturb other people by calling them to confirm the information. Sometimes the scammers do know the names of your friends or relatives. They can get that information from a variety of sources. Your relatives may be mentioned in an obituary or on a social networking site. Your email contact list may contain the names of friends and relatives.

What do these scammers usually say?

They might say something like, "I’m trying to get home but my car broke down and I need money right away to get it fixed." Or they may claim to have been mugged, or been in a car accident, or need money for bail or to pay customs fees to get back into Canada from another country. They may also pose as an attorney or law enforcement official contacting you on behalf of a friend or relative. No matter the story, they always want you to send money immediately.

If you receive a suspicious sounding phone call from someone claiming to be a family member or friend, ask some questions that would be hard for an imposter to answer correctly – the name of the person’s pet, for example, or the date of their mother’s birthday. Or just hang up and contact that family member directly with the number you have for them.

Police agencies also point out that unlike the United States, Canada does not have a cash bail system and instead relies on sureties, which means upfront cash isn't required to bail an accused person out of detention.

Across the country, police and fraud-prevention experts are warning Canadians to be vigilant with reports of "grandparent scams" targeting seniors. Here are some of the most common scams and ways to protect yourself from getting scammed.

CRA imposter scams: These are typically phone scams, but are also among the most common email scams. The fraudsters claim that the victims owe back taxes and penalties, and unless payment is made immediately, arrest, foreclosure, or other legal consequences could result. Victims are often instructed to pay by wire transfer, credit card, certified check, or even gift card.

If you receive such a call, hang up and contact CRA yourself to verify the situation. Also, never give out your personal information or banking details to anyone over the phone.

Even if the number displayed on the caller ID looks accurate, know that scammers can use caller ID spoofing in order to make it look like the call is coming from a legitimate CRA phone number.

Charity scams: Sadly, it's common for scammers to pose as representatives of charitable organizations in order to prey on seniors' willingness to give to good causes. This is particularly true in the aftermath of natural disasters like earthquakes, fires, and hurricanes. Fraudsters might call you or come to your door requesting donations for either well-known charities or ones that they made up themselves. Or you might be directed to bogus charity websites (many of which will have names that are very similar to well-known organizations) that collect your money and steal your credit card information.

Don't let yourself be guilted into giving a donation until you've had a chance to research the charity. Never give your credit card information to people who appear at your door; instead, ask for printed materials that you can review in your own time. Check the charity's website address for odd misspellings and keep in mind that most non-profit sites end in .org rather than .com. And be aware that in the wake of a disaster, legitimate charities will generally appeal for donations through the media rather than approach individual potential donors.

Funeral scams: Taking advantage of a grieving widow or widower is one of the most despicable types of elder scams. Fraudsters know that people are more susceptible to being conned when they are dealing with the loss of a loved one. Some scammers read obituaries or attend funerals of random elderly individuals, then they approach the surviving spouse claiming that the deceased person owed lots of money that must be repaid immediately.

To avoid getting swindled when you're emotionally overwhelmed, ask someone you know and trust to take care of your financial obligations for a brief time while you are in mourning.

Lottery scams: You get a letter or phone call saying you've won a huge monetary prize in a lottery or lucky draw. The catch is that you need to pay a small fee or provide your banking details in order to collect your winnings. This is one of the most common scams out there because it still works.

Always remember that you can't win a contest you didn't enter. Also, legitimate lotteries or sweepstakes do not require you to pay a fee in order to collect your prize. Even if the letter you receive includes a check for your "winnings," the check is worthless and will bounce in a few days' time if you try to cash it. Never give out your banking information in response to a contest promotion.

Sweetheart scams: Unfortunately, many older adults fall prey to financial exploitation through romance scams. What usually happens is that a con artist will establish a bond with an older person through an online dating site, take the conversation offline to avoid the site's privacy protections, and eventually ask for cash to help him or her out of a predicament. The scammer will often claim to need money for a medical emergency or for travel to see the victim. Many fraudsters target faith-based online dating services on the theory that people are less likely to be suspicious of someone who shares their religious beliefs.

Be suspicious if someone claims to be in love with you but needs money in order to come see you. If the person you're communicating with repeatedly pleads for cash and insists that you are the only one who can help, that's a sign that his or her intentions may not be honourable. Never send money to someone you only know online. Investigate the person's claims before sharing too much personal information with them.

Tech support scams: There are numerous variations of this scam, but this is how it typically works: Posing as a representative of a technology company such as Dell or Microsoft, a caller informs you that his or her organization has detected viruses on your computer. The scammer then convinces you to hand over your banking information as well as remote access to your machine so that the problem can be "fixed" and the service can be billed to you.

In some cases, you might be told to click on a link in an email and follow the directions given there. But when you go to the site, malware gets installed on your device and gives the scammer access to your personal files with information on your bank accounts, passwords, and health records. Some fraudsters lock victims' systems down and demand a ransom fee to restore access.

Do not give your financial information or control of your computer to anyone who calls out of the blue claiming to be from tech support. Make sure anti-virus software and pop-up blockers are installed on your device and stay on top of updates. Never, ever click on links in pop-up ads or unsolicited emails. If you have questions, call the real tech support by finding the number on the company's website or product packaging (not on your caller ID or in an email).

How can you protect your email account from being used by scammers?

Use a firewall and anti‐virus and anti‐spyware software. Many computers come with these features already built‐in. They are also easy to find on the Internet. Keep your software updated. Don’t open attachments in emails from strangers, since they can contain programs that enable crooks to get into your computer remotely.

If you realize you’ve been scammed, what can you do?

Scammers ask you to send money through services such as Western Union and MoneyGram because they can pick it up quickly, in cash. They often use fake IDs, so it’s impossible to trace them. Contact the money transfer service immediately to report the scam. If the money hasn’t been picked up yet, you can retrieve it, but if it has, it’s not like a check that you can stop, the money is gone.

Access the RCMP's Seniors Guidebook to Safety and Security here:

The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre is the main federal agency that collects information on scams and provides assistance to fraud victims. It has a senior support unit that focuses on scams affecting older adults. Call 1-888-495-8501.

The Spam Reporting Centre is run by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) and gathers information on email threats.

The Competition Bureau receives complaints about misleading marketing practices. You can file a complaint online or call 1-800-348-5358.

The Better Business Bureau maintains a searchable database of complaints related to scams.

If you need help reporting a scam or have related questions, we at in4MED, can help by connecting you to local service providers and being there for you as your trusted health advocates. As always, feel free to connect with me or leave a comment.


Healthcare Consultant, in4MED

The author of this blog post is a Physician with over 10 years of experience working in the healthcare system as a clinician, researcher and educator. She is passionate about healthcare for older adults and strives to be a resourceful inspiration to caregivers.

*No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified healthcare professional.

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