RCMP in Manitoba say it is highly likely that the same group of criminals is behind separate incidents of the Grandparent Scam in La Broquerie and Winkler in recent weeks.
Sergeant Paul Manaigre says the version of this scam which seems to be popular right now involves a criminal making a phone call to an elderly person and pretending to be a relative in need of financial assistance. The criminal will often say they have been arrested and need bail money. The caller then convinces the senior to pay a sum of money to an individual who will be swinging by their residence to collect the cash. The senior is made to believe that the money is necessary for their loved one to be released from prison.
Police say on January 18th, a senior living in the Rural Municipality of La Broquerie fell victim to this scam. One day later, a man from Winkler also provided thousands of dollars in a similar scam.
"What are the odds that there are two people doing it kind of in the same area at the same time?" questions Sergeant Manaigre. "I would think there is a possible connection but we'll let the investigation hopefully move forward and if we can make an identification, hopefully that will lead to an arrest."
In the incident in the RM of La Broquerie, police only said the victim was scammed out of a substantial amount of money. In the Winkler incident, police say several thousands of dollars was stolen.
According to Sergeant Manaigre, it appears the criminals are generally asking for about $5,000 to $8,500. He notes it is usually not an extremely large amount. Sergeant Manaigre says if they are even successful with obtaining $2,000, they might continue with the scam and try pulling larger amounts from the victim.
"It's difficult sometimes for some people to ascertain whether or not it's real," says Sergeant Manaigre. "And that's why they become victimized."
Sergeant Manaigre says it is hard to say where these phone calls are originating from. In the cases targeting seniors in La Broquerie and Winkler, he notes it could be that the call was coming from Winnipeg or someplace close enough where it paid to make the drive to collect the money.
However, not all cases involve someone stopping at a residence to collect money. Sergeant Manaigre says sometimes fraudsters will call and ask for funds to be provided through gift cards. In these instances, the transaction can take place by telephone. And, he says criminals will often use an app to make it look like they are calling from a local number so that the victim answers the phone.
"Most people nowadays, you get an international call or some number you don't recognize, most likely you are not answering it," says Sergeant Manaigre. "So, they try and use a local number to try and make that person think that it's a local number and it won't be an issue."
Sergeant Manaigre says in some cases it could be that criminals are getting more courageous by actually knocking on doors to collect the stolen money. However, he notes it could also be that some criminals are not smart enough or sophisticated enough to be able to be able to steal this money via telephone alone.
Sergeant Manaigre reminds the public that police officers will never call for bail money. He notes lawyers will not call for that either. Sometimes a fraudster will call pretending to be from Revenue Canada, but Sergeant Manaigre says an issue with Revenue Canada will come by letter through the mail, not by telephone.
He says if you sense the call is fraudulent, the best thing to do is to hang up and call both police and the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre. Sergeant Manaigre says it is important for both organizations to receive this information.
"The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre is another organization that's actually tied in with the RCMP," he says. "There have been investigations that have led to arrests from the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre."
Sergeant Manaigre says the sharing of this information is extremely important.
Further to that, he says it is best to never provide financial information over the telephone. Sergeant Manaigre says if you have concerns related to your banking, you should contact your financial institution directly.
Meanwhile, he says generally people are putting too much personal information on social media, and with a little bit of homework, criminals can learn a lot about a particular person. In the case of the Grandparent Scam, Sergeant Manaigre says criminals can easily target a senior and learn the names of their family members and even the community that they live in or the address of their home.
"It gives them enough information to make that story seem believable," he says.