Like hundreds of Canadian seniors this year, Ilene Lawson received a terrifying phone call she won’t soon forget.

She was told her granddaughter had been in a car accident and a loaded gun was found in the trunk. She was now in police custody.

“I was freaking out. I was totally freaking out,” said Lawson at her home in Mississauga, Ont. “I was shaking, which is not normally me. All I could think about is my granddaughter being a cell, locked up in there.”

The caller told Lawson her granddaughter would be released if she paid a $10,000 dollar cash bond. But she was told there was a gag order and she had to keep quiet.

It was only after she handed over the money, she realized it was all a lie.

She is now sharing her story in the hope that no one else will fall victim to the scam.

“Every night when I go to bed I relive it,” she said.

Police across the country are seeing a rise in criminals preying on fears of the elderly with what’s known as grandparent scams.

They say fraudsters are no longer just collecting by wire transfer.

“What we’re seeing locally is that there’s an in-person element. It’s not just online, and that’s concerning to me,” said Cpl. Laura Hirst of the Burnaby RCMP in B.C.

The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC) says from Jan. 1 to Aug. 31 in 2022, there were 1,352 reports of ‘emergency’ scams, resulting in more than $4.5 million in losses. That’s almost twice the losses in all of 2021.

That’s only the reported cases. Victims often stay silent.

“It’s not only financial consequences but also emotional consequences, where these victims usually are going to have a sense of fear, discouragement, shame that they have listened to the fraudsters,” said Lt. Lynne Labelle of the Montreal police department.

RCMP say seniors who get such a call should:

  • Hang up and not provide any information to the caller
  • Do not send money to the caller
  • Call your family members right away, especially the family member in question
  • Report this information to police.

All scams should also be reported to the CAFC, which can be reached online or by phone at 1-888-495-8501.

“Be mindful or be careful of what you post online. Scammers can use details shared on social media platforms,” said Jeff Horncastle of the CAFC. “A lot of times if you list your family members, names of your family members, fraudsters unfortunately can gather this information and use it as an extra tool to try and scam you.”