Beware of Christmas scams, cops warn

Con artists are hoping it’ll be a green Christmas — that’s why cops are warning residents to be on guard during the holiday season.

“The best medicine is prevention,” said Ottawa police Sgt. Richard Dugal from the organized fraud section.

“You have to take a step back when people are offering things.”

Every winter, snowplowing scams are “sure to happen,” said Dugal.

The elderly, in particular, are susceptible to a variety of hoaxes.

“These schemers and scammers and fraudsters, a lot of times, will target seniors because they’re more vulnerable, they’re a bit more accepting of strangers, they have more time, they do have a fair amount of resources,” said Dugal.

Seniors tend to be more trustworthy, especially when people are nice, “so it makes them perfect victims for all these kinds of incidents, unfortunately.”

The ‘season of giving’ fuels greed, said Michael Mulvey, a marketing professor at the University of Ottawa.

“People are very sensitive to the needs of people that are less fortunate at this time of year,” said Mulvey.

He suggests vetting charities which knock on doors.

“You have people running around with a jar saying they’re collecting for whatever, and if you ask them for the charity ID card or something, they run away,” said Mulvey.

Police often deal with a problem that doesn’t require door-knocking: The Grandparent Emergency Scam.

“That’s when somebody will call and say ‘hi grandma or grandpa, it’s me’. And the person will inevitably say, ‘oh Richard?,’” said Dugal.

The caller plays along, pretending to be jailed or in trouble in another city, and asks for cash to be wired.

Then comes the moneymaker: ‘Please don’t tell my parents.’

Immediately ask the parents and avoid sending money, Dugal advises.

Seniors, though, aren’t the only gullible ones.

Younger people are more inclined to fall for Romance Scams.

Victims often meet fraudsters online through a social networking or dating site.

The fraudster is typically overseas and asks for money to meet in person.

Sometimes the fraudster will fake an emergency, such as a sick family member, then request funds to help cover costs.

“We’ve had stories like this that are horrendous,” said Dugal.

“People who fall for this tend to be revictimized.”

Last year, more than $12 million in losses was reported by Canadians, according to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, which also notes the scam has led to suicide after victims lost their life savings and became “emotionally destroyed.”

Victims feel ashamed, making it difficult to discuss with loved ones, said Dugal.

Never send money through wire transfers, unless you’re willing to just give it away “or flush down the toilet, because essentially, that’s what it is,” said Dugal.

A scam is contractually based, i.e. a paving agreement that’s not honoured, while an example of fraud is knocking on doors, collecting money for an agency that doesn’t exist.

The propensity to succumb to smooth talkers could be based on nature.

“A cynic or somebody who’s jaded would look at everything (as) ‘you’re trying to screw me over,’” said Mulvey.

“Somebody who likes to see the good in human beings…they make themselves vulnerable.”

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Twitter: @ottawasunkroche



-Legitimate charities will never push, warn cops, so don’t be pressured on the spot. Do your homework by calling, verifying, and asking for references

-Never give cash

-Donate to established charities

-Make sure a real mailing address exists, and use referrals from people you trust

-If someone is asking for money, question the method of payment



-Snow plow contract:

Snow removal promised -paid up front – then never delivered

-Lottery Letter:

A letter arrives, advising you’ve won a prize, lottery or sweepstakes for a contest you didn’t enter, and a cheque is enclosed. Scammers will want the cheque deposited as partial payment of your winnings. You may be asked to send a portion of the funds back via a wire transfer service to cover taxes, duties or administration charges.

-Online exchange:

Selling merchandise on free sites such as Craigslist or Kijiji, buyers purchase items without ever seeing it in person and wind up empty-handed.

-Account Takeovers/Identity theft:

Check bank/credit card balances weekly, if not daily, say cops.

Swipe cards yourself whenever possible, run credit checks at least once a year, and keep your PIN confidential

Sources: Ottawa Police, Ministry of Consumer Services, Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre

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