What Do I Need to Know about Frauds and Scams in Canada?

In recent years, the Canadian Association of Retired Persons (CARP) has voiced growing concerns about the inadequacy of laws and punishments for those convicted of perpetrating frauds and scams against seniors. Scams vary in nature, but deception by email, text and phone call is very common. Scams in person may also occur.

The issue at hand is alarming: while robbing a bank for $5,000 may result in imprisonment, defrauding a senior of $100,000 often leads to minimal consequences. This discrepancy raises crucial questions about the effectiveness of law enforcement in investigating, prosecuting, and deterring fraud, particularly those targeted at older Canadians.

One of the contributing factors to the surge in fraud against seniors is the rapid technological evolution of the past decade. The criminal landscape has been transformed, making fraud more accessible, widespread, and sophisticated. In 2022 alone, the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre recorded a staggering $530 million in victim losses, marking a 40% increase from the previous year. 

Unfortunately, the increase in financial loss isn’t tied to an increase in reporting—the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre estimates that only 5 to 10% of people report fraud.

While the justice system may perceive some fraud offenses as minor, the impact on victims, particularly elderly individuals, can be devastating. Instances of fraud can lead to the loss of homes, as illustrated by the case of Frank Herman and his wife, both in their 80s, who face potential homelessness due to falling victim to a phone scam involving a fake RCMP officer

Investigative reports from CBC Toronto shed light on the challenges faced by enforcement systems in handling fraud cases. The justice system appears overloaded and reluctant to prosecute fraud, often leaving victims to recover their losses independently. A lack of specialized expertise, resource-heavy investigations, and competing priorities within the justice system contribute to the inadequate handling of fraud cases.

Identity theft

Identity theft occurs when a con artist steals personal information from someone so they can pretend to be that person and then do things like apply for a credit card, take out a loan or mortgage, get a cell phone or withdraw bank funds. The con artist will try to get information such as a bank card number and personal identity number (PIN), credit card number, health card number, driver’s license and Social Insurance Number (SIN).

Many scams and frauds attempt to imitate government services in order to gain access to your personal and financial information.  You may receive false messages from Service Canada, Canada Revenue Agency, Immigration, Refugees, Citizenship Canada, or Canada Border Services Agency, Canada Post.

If your wallet is lost or stolen, or mail you are expecting goes missing, you should report it right away to your bank or credit union.

Credit/debit card fraud

Credit card and debit card fraud occurs when a con artist uses your card, or a copy, to make purchases or withdraw money from your account. Keeping your card in sight, memorizing your PIN, and shielding your hand when you enter your PIN are ways you can reduce the risk of your credit card or debit card information being stolen and misused.

Digital scams (websites, email or text)

There are many digital scams and new ones appear all the time. Some appear to be asking for your help; some say there is a problem with your bank account or tax return. If you are not sure about an e-mail or text, stop and verify.  Do not open attachments or click on links, and do not provide personal or financial information.  You can check that any telephone number provided is the same as others found online, or check to see if there are scam reported that sound similar to what you are experiencing via CAFC.

Phone and door-to-door scams

Phone and door-to-door scams are also very common. Someone will call or come to your door pretending to be a representative of a charity, an employee of a credit card company, or even a distant relative. You might be offered a free prize or trip. If you aren’t completely sure who you are dealing with, do not give the person any money or information.

Sometimes people call or come to your door using high-pressure sales tactics to get you to buy something you don’t want or need, or to talk you into getting work done on your house and then overcharging you or doing a bad job. While this is not always illegal, it is wrong and should be reported.

How is CARP Advocating?

CARP advocates for freedom from ageism and financial security.  Scammers who prey on older Canadians threaten both of these priorities.

CARP assert that there is a lack of political and institutional will to address financial crimes systematically. As the number of fraud cases against seniors continues to grow, it is imperative to address the apparent shortcomings in the justice system to protect vulnerable members of society. CARP is demanding:

  • Increased investigative efforts by law authorities
  • More meaningful penalties and sentences given to those found guilty of such crimes
  • A comprehensive and unified approach to financial crimes; it is time for a concerted effort from law enforcement, policymakers, and the community to combat the growing threat of fraud against seniors and ensure that justice is served.

How Can I Get Involved?

Keep tabs on current frauds and learn more about how to protect yourself or report scammers through the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.

Follow these basic tips:

  • Keep all personal documents in a secure place. If you don’t need them, do not carry your birth certificate, passport or SIN card.
  • Never tell another person your PIN or account passwords and take care to cover your hand when entering your PIN at bank machines and when making store purchases.
  • Safely dispose of old bills and statements–shredding is best.
  • Do not click on pop-up windows or respond to e-mails, open attachments or go to website links sent by people you do not know. Your bank or credit union will not send you anything by e-mail unless you ask them to.
  • Never give out your credit card, bank account, or personal information to someone over the phone, at the door, or over the Internet unless you know the person or organization you are dealing with, or you made the contact.
  • Do not sign an agreement or contract to buy anything without giving yourself time to think it over. If a salesperson insists that an “offer” is “time limited” and you must decide that moment, it is probably better not to buy.
  • Be suspicious if someone you don’t know asks you to send them money or a cheque, or to return money they “accidentally” sent you.
  • Before hiring someone or agreeing to have work done on your home, ask for proof of identity and references and check them.

There are many ways to get involved.  Find out more.