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OPINION: Senior frauds a perennial problem in need of a solution

Chilliwack man’s vulnerable wife falls prey to a new one: the Henry Cavell scam

The scams just never end.

If we didn’t have enough to worry about with war in Europe, a global pandemic, atmospheric rivers and heat domes, making sure our vulnerable elders don’t get fleeced out of their life savings is a problem that won’t go away, and seems to be getting worse.

I received an email last week from a man who said his wife has been duped out of sending between $5,000 and $10,000 to someone claiming to be Henry Cavill (famous British actor) on WhatsApp. The woman suffers from a mental illness.

“We came to B.C. for our retirement in August 2020 and this has been our biggest nightmare ever since,” he wrote via email.

Tell anyone in law enforcement about this and, sadly, they will not be surprised. Search “scam” on The Chilliwack Progress website and there is a long list of stories, diverse in nature. The first five hits: job scam, online shopping scam, rental scam, tax scam, Visa scam, CRA scam.

The RCMP in B.C. issued a press release on Tuesday on the topic of how scams and frauds continue to plague vulnerable populations.

Four specific scams got attention: the “emergency” scam; the “social insurance number” scam; the “romance” scam; and the “extortion” scam.

“These are but a few variations on a common theme persistently targeting the elderly and other vulnerable populations such as immigrants and those for whom English is not their first language.”

“We continue to repeat our warnings, but we don’t mind being a broken record,” said Sgt. Peter DeVries of the North Vancouver RCMP. “We need would-be targets to know how to recognize these scams. We also need friends, family, neighbours, anyone who interacts with the elderly or those who a re new to Canada to tell them about these scams, how to recognize them, and what to do if they are contacted by a scammer.” Anyone can be a target, says DeVries, and some of the fraudsters are extremely convincing.

We’ve done many stories on scams over the years, a fraction of how many actual occur because people are often too embarrassed to share. But some people want to warn others.

Last July I wrote about Bonnie Ball who was a victim of a telephone fraud costing her $44,000.

“I know I’m never going to get my money back,” she said, after falling victim to the “emergency” scam. Someone pretending to be her grandson called to say he needed bail money urgently.

Ball is a smart woman, but the scammer was incredibly convincing and had information about the family that convinced her. But sometimes the problem is a language barrier or much worse, a senior with dementia or other mental health issues.

The Asian community is currently being targeted with the “extortion” scam, where they receive automated calls that claim they are coming from the Beijing police or INTERPOL or the Chinese consulate. The calls are intimidating and threatening, and the claim is that the victim is involved in a fraud and a package in their name has been intercepted.

The “social insurance number” scam is the extremely common one where the caller claims to be an employee of the Canada Revenue Agency or Service Canada and they make some fraudulent claim about back taxes owed or a compromised SIN number.

The wife of the man who emailed me about losing thousands of dollars, fell prey to a version of the “romance” scam, where a fraudster convinces a victim to enter a virtual, online relationship, which leads to asking for money for travel or a medical emergency or to join some business venture.

This particular version sounds outrageous, the actor who played Superman in DC Extended Universe contacts you via WhatsApp to ask for money? Ridiculous as that sounds, someone with a mental health issue is particularly vulnerable to any kind of scam.

And here’s the thing, this Chilliwack victim is far from alone. There are a whole host of scams focused on Henry Cavill going around, according to various websites. There is an identify theft scam contacting people from a fake Facebook account. One Reddit posts points out that Cavill would “never ask you for nude pictures.”

The manager of a Henry Cavill Twitter fan page even addressed the WhatsApp scam directly over a year ago.

“Guys, the scams seem to be getting out of hand. Henry has only two official accounts: Instagram (and) Facebook.

“Any other account claiming to be Henry is a scammer. If it’s on WhatsApp, it is definitely a scam. Please be careful.”

Most of us who got vaccinated and wear masks are doing our best to protect immune-vulnerable elderly people in our communities. Let’s also not forget to protect our financially vulnerable elder relatives and neighbours from the epidemic of scams going around.

Check in with folks. Ask if everything is alright. Make sure they haven’t participated in any unusual phone or online activity.

Paul Henderson is editor of the Chilliwack Progress.