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So-called ‘grandparent scams’ becoming more sophisticated

Fraudsters using A.I. to make their scam calls sound more authentic
Scammers targeting seniors often claim to be friends or family members who are in an emergency situation and need funds right now, and are using increasingly sophisticated methods to sound more convincing. (Photo credit: Better Business Bureau)

Elder fraud is on the rise, and police are warning that fraudsters’ tactics are evolving and becoming more sophisticated.

Also called “grandparent scams”, the schemes typically target seniors. A common scam involves an emergency of some sort, and while the actual details can vary, they all follow a similar formula, with suspects using high-pressure tactics aimed at convincing victims that a family member is in serious or life-threatening trouble and needs money sent to them immediately.

One well-known variant involves someone calling the victim and pretending to be a family member who has been jailed and needs bail money. In another version, the “family member” or “friend” is supposedly on vacation and has lost their wallet (or had it stolen) and needs a cash transfer for temporary funds.

Another scenario is that the caller must return home suddenly due to an emergency and needs money for a plane ticket. Callers also claim that they have been involved in a car accident or similar dire predicament and need funds immediately.

By creating a sense of urgency (arrest, theft, emergency), scammers hope to distract the victim from the implausibility of the situation, or avoid too many questions. While seniors are often targeted, as they are perceived as being less “tech-savvy”, anyone can fall victim to these types of scams.

A new twist is that the voice used in the phone call has been altered to sound more authentic using digital manipulation, likely with the help of A.I. (Artificial Intelligence). These tools mimic voices from data that is largely coming from public social media accounts, meaning that the person calling sounds like whoever they are impersonating.

There are several steps that can be taken to protect your loved ones from falling victim:

- Stay connected with the seniors in your life. This prevents isolation, which can make them more vulnerable to scammers.

- Warn seniors not to share sensitive information, and help them create strong, unique passwords.

- Monitor their monthly banking statements for signs of unusual/unauthorized payments.

- Advise them to contact a trusted person if they receive an unexpected request for a sudden cash transfer, or reach out directly to the person who is said to be involved (or their family) to see if the story is true.

- Warn other family members and friends if a loved one has experienced a scam attempt.

If someone you know has been scammed, be sure to document everything that has happened, including phone calls, emails, and text messages. Report the scam to local police and to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, as well as to the victim’s financial institution and credit card provider. Change their passwords — including those for social media sites — to new and stronger ones.

Romance, false charity, and false lottery/sweepstakes scams also target seniors, so it’s important to emphasize the need to go slow, ask questions, verify the truth of any emails or phone calls, and confirm the identity of the person who is calling.

Never click on suspicious links in emails, social media messages, or texts, don’t respond to friend requests from people you don’t recognize, and beware of phone calls that come in from unidentifiable numbers.

One last, powerful tool is to remind people not to be afraid to say “no” to the person on the other end of a phone call, and simply hang up, or to delete suspicious emails or text mails without replying. If the request is legitimate, the person trying to contact you will be sure to let you know.