At some point in life, each of us will find ourselves in a vulnerable situation. It could be during an illness, either your own or a family member, a marriage breakdown, or the death of a loved one. Scammers prey on those who are experiencing a circumstance that makes them vulnerable, playing on a person’s emotions to exploit them. In 2021, reported losses due to frauds and scams cost New Brunswickers more than $4.2 million.
Stress, fatigue, isolation, and even over-confidence can all play a role in someone’s ability to recognize when they are being taken advantage of. To protect yourself from scams and frauds, it’s important to understand when you are vulnerable, the risks, and how to protect yourself in the process.
When is a person vulnerable?
It’s circumstance - not age or any other personal characteristic - that makes a person vulnerable.
A person in a vulnerable circumstance could be:
- Someone who just had a baby and lacks necessary sleep, feels secluded at home, or is going through post-partum depression.
- Someone who lost their job and is emotionally and financially distressed.
- Someone who just found out their loved one has a terminal sickness.
- Someone who is isolated from friends or family due to a sudden decrease in mobility or a health crisis.
As we age, we may experience more vulnerable circumstances while at the same time less tolerance and capacity for risk. Risk capacity is how much risk you are financially able to accept.
Those who are no longer working and are on a fixed income in retirement, may find it harder to recover from a serious financial loss. By learning to recognize when you may be in a vulnerable situation, you can help protect yourself and your money from frauds and financial abuse.
Another way to protect your money is to learn about common scams. In 2021, New Brunswick’s older population reported losing almost $2 million to frauds and scams – nearly half of the total $4.2 million reported lost by New Brunswickers. The actual total loss is likely much higher since it’s estimated that only five per cent of people report frauds and scams.
Let’s look at five commons ways fraudsters are targeting older New Brunswickers.
Tech Support Scams
A lower level of comfort and familiarity with technology may make a person more vulnerable to tech support scams. When “Microsoft tech support” calls, we may be uncertain whether the call is legitimate but may be afraid to ask a friend of family member. If someone reaches out to you claiming you have an issue with your computer and they need to provide tech support services, hang up immediately.
In 2021, investment scams topped the chart of fraud reported to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC). In New Brunswick alone, seniors reported losing more than $1.2 million in investments scams – a 860 per-cent jump in just two years.
The popularity of alternative investments, such as cryptocurrency, has contributed to the rise in scams, as many people react to the hype yet struggle to understand the technology behind digital currencies. Scam artists will prey on a person’s fear of missing out and convince them to act fast on a limited-time or “high-return, low-risk” deal.
Recovery scams are also on the rise. A recovery scam is when the same fraudster who sold the fake investment product, such as a fake crypto asset, reaches out to the victim pretending to represent a reputable company or law enforcement, and claims they can help recover the money initially invested. However, this is just an attempt to steal more.
Learn more about Crypto Scams on the Rise.
Grandparent or Emergency Scam
In this scam, a fraudster calls pretending to be a family member (often a grandchild). They say they are in trouble (for example, in jail) and need money or gift cards sent, but want to keep it a secret so they won’t get in trouble with their parents. Eighteen New Brunswickers reported losing more than $260,000 in 2021 to the emergency scam.
When someone greets you at the door claiming to represent a reputable company, it’s tempting to engage, especially if the person is friendly, easy to talk to, or offering a “great deal.” Door-to-door selling is a licensed activity in New Brunswick and those coming to your door to sell a product should be able to produce a licence when asked. Despite attempting to regulate door-to-door selling, there are situations when scams can happen.
In 2021, the CAFC received 41 reports from New Brunswick seniors about service – or door-to-door – scams. Common door-to-door scams include someone selling products or services -- like discounted home repair services, driveway sealing, or home heating systems – but either provides faulty products and services or none at all after the customer has paid. Be careful of unclear contracts and aggressive sales tactics. The fraudster may take advantage of a potential client being alone and pressure them to act fast to collect the limited-time offer.
Before signing a contract or handing over your money, take the time to ensure the person at your door is a legitimate service provider and ask to see their licence. Check that the licence is not expired, that the seller is representing the vendor specified in the licence, and that it has been signed by the Director of Consumer Affairs and the salesperson. Seek references from previous work and, if possible, research the company to see if they have good ratings.
Many turn to dating sites to find companionship with those who may have common interests. However, scammers steal photos and use dating sites and social media to lure potential victims into sending money for various reasons. In 2021, Canadian seniors reported losing more than $19 million in romance scams. In the romance scam, the fraudster gains the trust of the victim through displays of affection. They will communicate via phone, skype and email for months, building the relationship and becoming a companion, in an effort to build trust. The scammer will often claim to be working abroad, usually in a lucrative business venture. Eventually the scammer will want to meet with the victim in person. It is at this time that the scammer will inform them that they cannot afford to travel and will ask for money to cover travel costs. Another variation involves the scammer claiming that there is a medical emergency with a sick family member. They will then ask for money to cover medical expenses.
To learn more about frauds and scams happening in New Brunswick, visit the Frauds and Scams Database at FCNB.ca.