Guelph police sounds the alarm on rise in grandparent scams

Over $40,000 has been lost by Guelph residents in the past week to grandparent scams

Another round of so-called grandparent scams is forcing Guelph police to sound the alarm.

This, after over $40,000 was reported lost by Guelphites in the past week alone.

“I’m calling this our third wave of grandparent scams,” Det. Const. Brooke Drake with Guelph police told GuelphToday. “They seem to come in waves. We arrest people, and then they go away for a bit, then they come back.”

Calls tend to be similar: unblocked numbers in Quebec, a crying and emotional “grandson” on the other end involved in a crash, arrested because police supposedly found “a bunch of marijuana in my car,” or the grandson hit a pregnant woman in a crash.

And it’s usually a male calling.

“These people are very skilled at what they do,” Drake said. “This is their full-time job, so don’t think they’re dumb by any means, they’re very intelligent.”

She said if the scammer recognizes the person they’re calling is of a certain nationality, they may even use a grandparent term from that language.

“It’s always for bail, and then they’ll turn it over to a police officer,” Drake said. “It’s generally been an RCMP officer, they’ll say, and (they’ll use very consistent names for the officer).

“They may turn it over to a lawyer, who says they are their grandchild’s legal representation.”

Usually, between $8,000 and $10,000 is asked for, to bail the grandchild out.

They will then tell the victim to go to the bank and get cash, and someone will head over to pick up the money.

“It could be a male (picking up the funds). It could be female,” Drake said. “They can be young, they can be old. It could be any nationality, and it’s generally during the day but sometimes it has been at night.”

But the ones picking up the funds, she added, are just random mules getting sucked in, not the ones making the call or the ringleaders of the operation. And will always come and go on foot, before getting picked up a block or two away.

It won’t stop there. Drake said the calls will continue, more money will be sought after.

The ringleaders, she said, are in Montreal and Quebec, based on the warrants written by police services across Ontario. But she said it’s hard to track them down, and it’s tough working and getting cooperation with police in Montreal and Laval.

But Drake said there is a Canada-wide working group for police she is on, and she gets daily emails about incidents.

“Any time that gets anybody one, we send it out in our group, description of the people, any video, anything that’s different, the phone numbers, and all of that gets shared across Canada,” she said.

The information is also shared with the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, who have lent the working group an analyst who takes care of organizing data, providing potential links and shares findings on a monthly basis.

Patterns like phone numbers are noted, same with names fraudsters are using as police officers.

“They are currently looking at creating a joint task force to start heading out and hitting Montreal and Quebec, and seeing what we can get over there,” she said.

As for the statistics: about $65,000 was lost in grandparent scams this year (as of September) in Guelph.

The number has only climbed higher, though Drake said there was a lull because some arrests were made. The $40,000 lost in the past week was from six reported incidents in Guelph, with more attempts reported to police.

This includes one incident where a woman in her 70s lost $4,000 on Wednesday.

With the time and resources it takes, it’s not likely police will be able to stop scammers anytime soon. So they’ve turned to educational efforts, to get parents and children to talk to their parents and grandparents about this.

Drake said they will also be speaking with banks, so they have information to provide clients, and for employees themselves on what to look for.

“They’ve been a client for 30, 40, 50 years and they’ve never asked for a really large sum of money for any purpose,” she said. “(The victims) are coached through what to say to the bank. They are told there is a gag order and they can’t tell anybody about this, so that is what’s making the issue here.

“They play on their emotions and don’t give them a chance to think. Once they get home, hand the money over, and then they think, they’re like ‘oh no’ and they’re very regretful.”

For one, Drake said “gag orders” are not a thing in Ontario.

Secondly, she said police don’t ever ask for money as a form of bail.

“It gets written out, but we never physically take the money,” Drake said. “If you have to post bail for somebody, you have to come down to the police station and fill out paperwork. And it takes a large amount of marijuana for you to be arrested and held in bail.”

There has been some measure of success. Drake said scammers asking victims to ship money out seems to have slowed down.

She credited the security teams with UPS and Purolator in helping said slowdown.

“It’s against their policy to send money through their system, so they’ve worked really well with us,” Drake said.

But there’s still more ground to cover in squashing this scam.

“I know grandparents, there’s such love for their grandchildren and they just want to protect them and help them,” Drake said. “But just talk to your family.”

As for tips, Drake noted these particular scammers are calling landline phones.

“If you have a landline, or you have a parent or grandparent that has a landline, we highly suggest that you unlist that number,” she said. “Because what they’re literally doing is going through the phone book or going through Canada411 and just looking up landline phone numbers to call.”

Police are also reminding the public to use caution when dealing with people over the phone.

They said to never send or give money to people you’re not sure you know, don’t volunteer your own personal information, and take time to verify the story. And if the story is involving a loved one, contact them on your own or ask questions they only can answer.

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