An 87-year-old woman who lives on a government pension is one of several new victims of a large-scale scam, that has now hit at least one seniors' home in B.C.
"They played on her maternal instinct to help out — and keep a secret," said the woman's son, Don Brown, who doesn't want her name used. "She's embarrassed."
The scammers used what has become a well-known trick to get seniors to send money. Residents in the home were told it was their "grandson" calling. The imposter then said he was in Montreal and needed money because he'd been arrested for drunk driving – but he didn't want his parents to find out.
"In February, we know this one evening that there were about 10 calls," said Fran McDougall, executive director at Seton Villa, a seniors' building in Burnaby with 230 residents. "The calls are similar. They're very textbook."
Brown said his mom was called several times in December and January.
Drained savings account
"It's right next to child abuse. They are picking on a part of society that is very very innocent and it's despicable," he said.
Each time, she then went to the nearby TD Canada Trust and withdrew money from her savings to send to her "grandson," which her son said was extremely out of character.
"She systematically drained her savings account — a little bit at a time. I'm sure they are trained to tell her to do it so it doesn't draw attention all at once, in small amounts," said Brown.
He said his mother sent $20,000 before he found out. "It's kind of a game. [They say] 'I need money for the lawyer. I need money for this and that.'"
The scammers sent a UPS delivery person to Seton Villa, to pick up the cash from Brown's mom on several occasions.
McDougall said that would have happened right at the security desk, in front of staff, because when delivery people come to the building, staff call the residents down from their rooms to meet them in the lobby.
"[They say] they are a legitimate courier company and it's a legitimate pick up, and we're not in a position to question. But, we do deter delivery people from coming in our building and going upstairs," said McDougall.
"Now that I'm more aware that they are sending a courier to pick up that's something that we will pay much more attention to."
Victim given bank loan
Brown doesn't blame the seniors' residence, however, he is upset with TD Canada Trust for not preventing his mother from being victimized.
"They even lent her money [to send] and didn't contact us," said Brown.
After his mom withdrew all of her savings, Brown said she went to bank staff and told them her grandson was in trouble and she needed more money to send to him.
The bank gave her a $5,000 line of credit, which Brown said she can't afford to pay back.
"I hold them responsible for that portion. They shouldn't have done that. Someone should have been alerted," said Brown.
TD Canada Trust spokesperson Jeff Meerman said bank staff are trained to watch for "unusual transactions" and are also specifically trained to watch for what is sometimes called the 'grandparents scam.'
Even so, Meerman insisted the bank did nothing wrong in this case.
"We acted in the best interests of this customer," Meerman repeated several times.
He said TD Canada Trust is now talking with Brown's mother about a "repayment plan" but it will not forgive the loan or the interest.
"I intend not to pay it back," said Brown. He doesn't understand how the bank expects to collect from an elderly woman, whose only income is her Canada Pension Plan cheque.
"I think they should have some policy where they alert family members if seniors are withdrawing their life savings out of the bank in short periods of time," said Brown.
The Canadian Banker's Association said that due to federal privacy laws, banks are not allowed to call relatives even when they are concerned.
"Right now you can't do that without the individual's consent. And if they truly believe they are helping their grandchild then they may not let you do that," said spokesperson Maura Drew-Lytle.
She said the banks support a proposed law in Ottawa that would loosen those privacy laws.
RCMP statistics show 748 seniors have fallen victim to the grandparents scam in Canada and collectively they lost $2.5 million.
However, police estimate only five per cent of cases are reported, which means there could be several thousand victims with losses as high as $50 million.
Brown said he can't understand why no arrests have been made in his mother's case.
After he found out what happened, he convinced her to "play along" with the scammers by telling them she was sending more money. He said she then couriered two "dummy packages" with no money to two Montreal addresses the scammers gave her.
Brown figured police would wait there and arrest them, but that apparently didn't happen.
"We provided both the addresses where the packages were going and the tracking numbers, so they knew when the packages were arriving. It seemed like an easy catch," said Brown. "I don't think it's high on their priority list."
The RCMP told him by email that Quebec's provincial police would put the addresses under surveillance. However, when CBC News called that agency to ask about the case, a spokesperson said she had never heard of the scam and referred questions back to the RCMP.
"Because this is an ongoing investigation, I can't say anything about the case," Const. Linda Reinhart of the Burnaby RCMP told CBC News.
Brown was told in the RCMP email, "We do have two suspects in mind, however they are NOT CHARGEABLE nor are they ARRESTABLE until we can prove they were the ones who signed for the packages."
That was late January and Brown said he's heard nothing recently. He thinks the scam should be more of a priority for police, particularly in Quebec.
"Why is it happening out of Montreal? A world-wide based scam out of somewhere in Canada. I think as Canadians we should be embarrassed that it's happening because they are scamming people all over the world," said Brown.
"The elderly, they're vulnerable, and nobody is protecting them. No one is looking out for their best interest. When you can't protect your mom there's something wrong. You feel like you've failed."
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