Elder Abuse - Financial Fraud by Strangers

This fact sheet was published in 2010.

What is Financial Fraud?

If someone deceives you in order to take your money, property or anything of value, you are a victim of financial fraud. Strangers, family members or people you know can commit financial fraud. This fact sheet talks about financial fraud by strangers.

How do Strangers Commit Financial Fraud?

Financial fraud by strangers is usually hidden within a legitimate activity, such as a prize lottery; telemarketing or door-to-door sales pitch; or investment opportunity – but the objective is completely different. People behind financial fraud schemes are experts in deception, and they are good at coming up with new ways to trick unsuspecting victims. Their materials and presentations are carefully designed and very professional. They are experts at manipulation. They do not care how their actions hurt you emotionally or financially.

How Do Strangers Find Victims?

Scam artists use telephones, letters and the Internet to reach you. They may even knock on your door. They often appear friendly and charming. They pretend to be offering you something that you need or want.

Could It Happen to Me?

Financial fraud by strangers can happen to anybody, but senior citizens are often their targets. It is important to know that you can take steps to protect yourself.

Here are some tips that will help to keep you from becoming a victim:

  • Be sceptical. If a business deal or investment seems too good to be true, it probably is.
  • Do not pay large sums of money in advance. Honest businesses will not ask you for large amounts of money up front.
  • Take your time. Any honest business will let you have as much time as you need to think about whether you want to buy or invest your money. People who pressure you to act quickly may be trying to take your money before you have second thoughts. Take as much time as you need. Use this time to consult with others about the business and the offer.
  • Stay calm. Con artists often try to scare or excite their victim. You may be told that your investments are at risk or that you have to act quickly to take advantage of the special opportunity they are offering. They are trying to get you to agree to the deal so that they can take your money before you have time to think it over or to check with others.
  • Remember that business is business. Con artists often try to make friends with you to gain your trust. Be cautious if someone you do not know who is offering a business proposition seems anxious to discuss your personal life or seems overly friendly.
  • Check lots of sources before agreeing to the offer. Talk to friends, family members and a registered financial advisor. If you have access to the Internet, look on-line for information. Call the Better Business Bureau to see if there are any complaints about the individual or the company. Check carefully before you agree to any financial investment. It is important to check several sources, as well as sources other than the company or person who wants you to buy – many frauds are actually backed up by false telephone call centres or false Internet sites.
  • Before spending money, talk to more than one company. Sometimes people come to your door and say your roof is leaking and needs to be replaced or your house needs repair. Do not assume what they tell you is true or that the price they are asking is fair. Get several opinions on whether the work needs to be done and how much it should cost. Call the Better Business Bureau to see if there are any complaints about the individual or the company. Check carefully before you agree to any financial investment.
  • Beware of investments or opportunities that seem questionable or illegal. Scam artists often promise big profits if you do something improper, such as smuggling gemstones or money out of a country. The real purpose is to make you afraid to call the police when you find out that you have been a victim.
  • Check your credit rating once a year: You can order your credit report by telephone or by mail at no cost from a credit-reporting agency, such as TransUnion and Equifax. Purchases made by a con artist who has stolen your identity will show up in the report.
  • If you think you have been made a victim, take immediate action. Do not be embarrassed or ashamed. Fraud is a crime carried out by sophisticated scam artists who are experts in deception. It is not your fault. They are entirely to blame. You may be targeted again. You need to take immediate action to prevent further losses.
    • Call your financial institution and credit card issuer so they can stop any further transactions – use the phone book to make sure that you are calling the right number.
    • Tell your Internet provider if you think your Internet account has been compromised.
    • Contact PhoneBusters at 1-888-495-8501 (toll-free). PhoneBusters is the central agency in Canada that collects information on fraud complaints. The information is disseminated to the appropriate law enforcement agencies.
    • Call the police.
  • Be aware that seniors who are made victims once are often targeted by scam artists again. Sometimes you will even receive a second offer from the same scam artist offering to help you get your lost money back. You will likely not get your money back, but some scam artists will try to take even more from you. They may sell your name to other con artists who will try to deceive you with new offers.
  • Warn your family and friends so they do not also become victims of the same fraud.
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