London, Ontario – A senior in Ontario was targeted by what fraud experts refer to as the “emergency scam,” a scheme that preys on individuals by creating a fake crisis to exploit their emotions and convince them to transfer money without questioning the story. Tom Szczesniak, a 76-year-old resident of Toronto, was almost scammed when he received a phone call from someone claiming to be a lawyer named “Alan Miller.” The caller informed Szczesniak that his son had been in a car accident, but assured him that his son was okay.
The scammer proceeded to provide a detailed account of the accident, including various legal terms, making the story seem incredibly believable. According to the caller, Szczesniak’s son Stephan, who lives in Stratford, had been admitted to the hospital with a broken nose. The caller added that Stephan had caused an accident that resulted in a young child suffering a broken femur, and the incident was being investigated as an impaired driving offense. The scammer demanded that Szczesniak transfer $6,000 for bail before 5 p.m. to avoid his son having a permanent criminal record.
Midway through the call, the scammer informed Szczesniak that he would hang up and his son would call him instead. After a short pause, a man claiming to be Stephan called and reaffirmed the story, speaking with difficulty due to his alleged broken nose. Szczesniak’s wife, Linda, who was present during the call, began to suspect that something was amiss.
She suggested calling Stephan’s wife, Jean, to verify the information, but Szczesniak hesitated out of concern for her well-being. However, as soon as his wife made the call, the person posing as a lawyer abruptly ended the conversation. Having a second person in the room proved crucial in foiling the scam, as it allowed the couple to confirm the veracity of the information provided.
The emergency scam, along with the grandparent scam, in which scammers pose as distressed grandchildren in need of immediate financial assistance, has become a significant problem. These scams manipulate victims by exploiting their vulnerability and sense of urgency to extort money. The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre has flagged these scams as a growing concern, with losses amounting to $2.4 million in 2021, $9.6 million in 2022, and $11.3 million in 2023.
To protect oneself from falling victim to these scams, the Anti-Fraud Centre offers several recommendations. These include hanging up suspicious phone calls and contacting family members directly, calling law enforcement agencies directly to verify claims made by supposed officials, trusting one’s instincts if something seems off, being cautious about personal information shared online, being skeptical of calls demanding immediate action or bail money for a family member in distress, questioning familiar caller ID numbers that may be disguised, verifying requests for money through alternate means of communication, and using strong and unique passwords for online accounts.
Cases like Szczesniak’s underscore the importance of staying vigilant and being aware of these scams. By heeding the advice provided by the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, individuals can protect themselves and their loved ones from falling victim to these fraudulent schemes.