Phone scams were among the topics discussed during the gathering, with Reimer offering warnings about potential frauds and steps for avoiding problems. “Unfortunately, these criminals often target seniors,” she added. “And they are the ones who really can’t afford to be victim of these scams.” The RCMP’s commercial crime branch says that mass marketing fraud costs Canadians about $10 billion each year, and that number has been growing steadily over the past decade. The frauds range from prize offerings that require you to pay various fees or taxes in advance, to false charity scams. Reimer, during her presentation last week, highlighted a couple of recent popular scams that target seniors. In some cases, the callers identify themselves as relatives – or making a call on behalf of the relative – saying they have been involved in a car accident, a victim of a crime, or facing legal problems, all emergencies prompting an urgent need for cash. Typically, the caller will ask for secrecy, in order to prevent a quick phone call to verify the story. “Phone scams and frauds have been around a long time, but the criminals are getting a lot more sneaky now,” said Reimer. Another favourite among crooks is a push for donations for bogus charities. Often these charities use names that are very close to the names of legitimate and respected charities. Or they might even use the name of a legitimate organization to solicit funds. “They will even call and say they are the RCMP looking for donations,” Reimer said of one popular scam. “But the RCMP never take part in any type of phone solicitation for money.” In Canada we have a long and honourable tradition of voluntary giving to those in need, often through charitable organizations. High pressure or threatening telemarketers will often ask you to contribute immediately. They often start the call by thanking you for a pledge you don’t remember making. Copycat names, or names that might be misleading or deceiving, are also used. But if you’re not 100 per cent sure of the charity organization that contacts you – by mail, phone, or internet – be careful. In fact, that was one of the most important messages Reimer delivered last week – be careful. “For me, the best thing you can do is ask questions when you receive these types of calls,” she stated. She also recommends that you never give out your personal / financial information over the phone. Many of the schemes are sophisticated and appear legitimate. However, the RCMP believe that most of the fraud in Canada is actually conducted by organized crime. Because many of these types of crime occur across international boundaries, they are extremely difficult to investigate and prosecute. Scammers can operate from one country and steal from victims all over the world. Canada is now a member of the International Mass-Marketing Fraud Working Group which includes police agencies from nations. Still, most fraud cases are not reported. Police estimate that only between one and five per cent of fraud victims are willing to come forward. “The number of complaints that are made about phone scams are just the tip of the iceberg,” said Reimer. Residents can contact the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (formerly known as PhoneBusters National Call Centre) to report any suspicious phone calls. It is Canada’s national anti-fraud call centre and central fraud data repository. It is jointly operated by the Ontario Provincial Police, Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Competition Bureau. Once received, the centre analyzes the data, disseminate victim evidence, statistics, documentation and prepare reports for other law enforcement agencies in Canada and United States to follow up. Most observers, however, believe the best way to combat fraud is to be aware of the problem. “Most people are aware of phone scams,” said Reimer. “More than anything it was a good reminder about the issue. It’s a problem not just for seniors, but for everyone.” Reimer also discussed other issues – including fire safety – during her presentation last week.