Increasingly elaborate ‘grandparent scam’ targets Calgary senior

Staff Sergeant Geoff Gawlinski with the Calgary Police Service Economic Crimes Unit said he has noticed scams are becoming more sophisticated. TRINITY FITZPATRICK / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

A Calgary woman wants to warn others about an elaborate phone scam that nearly cost her $2,000.

It’s part of an increasingly sly process that dupes unsuspecting seniors.

“I just don’t find that I’m a gullible person. And I came so close,” said Dianne Scott.

“These scams are usually 10 minutes on the phone, but they were willing to be on the phone with me for an hour and a half, and have all these different people.”

On April 4, Scott received a text message from TD Bank spoof account. It was an alert that her credit card was over its limit. 

A few hours later, she received a phone call from the so-called bank. 

She was told there were two suspicious charges on her credit card. One charge was for $400 on eBay and the other was for $1,300 on a Google Play gift card.

The man told Scott they were going to get her money back. Scott was then transferred to another person who claimed they were dealing with eBay. She verified that she did not authorize the charge.

Scott said the man confirmed that he’s never seen similar charges on her credit card before, and so the charge was “cancelled.” Scott was later very concerned about how he could have known this, or if it was a lucky guess.

“He kept saying, we’re gonna help you, we’re gonna help you, and he would say this over and over again,” Scott said.

Scott was then transferred to someone who was supposedly from the bank’s fraud prevention department. He informed Scott that he had made an appointment for her at her nearest branch. It was the exact branch that Scott banks with.

“How did he know that?” Scott said.

Fear tactics used to get victims to comply

Scott was transferred again. She was informed that her identity had been stolen. The man told her a woman was posing as her sister-in-law and using her information to make these unsolicited purchases.

“I started to question that. I said, but sir, I don’t have a sister-in-law. I don’t have a brother. He said, well this is what she said, but he really didn’t want me to ask a lot of questions,” Scott said.

Although the eBay charge was “cancelled,” the man said Google refused to cancel the $1,300 charge. 

“I got quite upset because that’s a lot of money and I said, why would TD do a charge like that when it’s over my credit card limit? He kinda got a bit temperamental with me and distracted me from that answer,” she said.

“He said, we’re trying to help you. Don’t get upset with us. We’re the ones that are helping you here and we are gonna get your money back. We’re gonna catch these people and save your identity because he said when somebody has your identity, your whole life is destroyed.”

Scott said she began to cry. The man on the other end of the line got mad at her for being upset.

She was transferred again for a third time to someone apparently from Google. This person asked for the limit of Scott’s credit card and the amount of money in her account.

She gave him the information, thinking at this point her identity had been stolen.

Scott was transferred for the fourth time back to the first person she had initially spoken with. He said they had found someone at the Shoppers Drug Mart across the street from her possibly in connection to the stolen identity. 

“He said we are trying to catch them, we want to be able to trace what they’re doing, so he said do you think you would help? And I said well, what can I do?”

Gift cards a common part of scam

He told Scott he was going to put $2,000 of the “bank’s money” on her cards. He instructed her to go to her nearest store and purchase four $500 Joker Prepaid MasterCards.

“He was very specific about that. He said, you will put $490 on each card because it takes $10 to activate it. He said you go to the cashier, she may question why you’re doing that, but you need to be insistent so that once they’ve activated it, we will be able to trace the numbers on the gift cards,” Scott said.

He told Scott she needed to go to the store that instant. She apologized and said she couldn’t make it over right then and there. At this point, Scott had been on the phone for an hour and a half. 

“I said, well, I’m really sorry but I physically am not able to go right now, and then instantly, he told me to go f*ck myself and he hung up on me. So this is when I knew, oh my god, I came two steps to being $2,000 poorer,” Scott said.

Scott said if the man had just asked when she could go to the Shoppers Drug Mart, she would have thought nothing of it and gone the next day. She said she guesses since they put so much time in, he got aggravated.

“Shame on them, because I would have gone the next day. I would have done it. But Lord, now I am going to be one of those people that does not trust anybody. Any time I get a call from the bank … I’m gonna have to call back and see if this is really [the bank]. And I’ve never had to do that before,” she said.

The fact the scammers had some of Scott’s personal information made her feel as though someone was following her. She said she felt paranoid. 

“It’s really quite a scam and I truly can imagine the thousands of people that they’ve scammed and the amount of money is astronomical. Because me, it would have been $2,000. And I wouldn’t have been able to get it back because you put it on these gift cards.”

Similar scams are on the rise: Gawlinski

Staff Sergeant Geoff Gawlinski with the Calgary Police Service Economic Crimes Unit said he has heard of similar scams. 

“They are getting more sophisticated in how they try to trick people into getting them to comply with their claims, and we see it in various forms,” Gawlinski said.

Gawlinski said scammers will ask the victim to purchase gift cards. They will get that person to take photos or read the number off the back of the card. Then the scammers can convert the card, and most of the time, sell it to another group. That way the money is untraceable. 

“The government or any bank will never ask you to use that method for compensation or monies owed,” he said.

Gawlinski said the police work with stores and vendors to prevent the victim from following through with the scam. If they notice a person buying a high amount of cards, especially if they’re a senior, be aware and have a quick conversation with that individual. 

“No one will ever ask you that’s in a legitimate business to pay them through the use of these cards. That’s just not a natural business practice,” he said.

Gawlinski said this scam is similar to what the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre refers to as senior scams, or grandparent scams. Scammers will commonly pose as a family member who has been arrested and request money for bail. 

He also said scammers utilize the internet to gain information about their victim. Obituaries and discarded pieces of mail offer enough information to make the victim believe a scam is legitimate. Data breaches are another way of obtaining confidential information.

“They just need a little bit of information to gain that person’s confidence so that person thinks they are talking to a legitimate source,” Gawlinski said.

Gawlinski said if anyone receives a similar phone call they should ask a family member. They can also phone the police and ask for advice, or call their bank. His biggest tip is to monitor bank accounts as frequently as possible and watch for any suspicious transactions.

“They take advantage of people with their guard down, or who aren’t familiar with the scams. And if they get one or two out of 100 that they call that works, they can make good money for that day,” Gawlinski said. 

Anyone who is a victim of a scam should report it to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.