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Ontario police say 14 charged after 126 people lose money in 'grandparent scam'


Ontario Provincial Police say 14 alleged members of an organized gang are facing dozens of charges after 126 people from across Canada lost nearly $1 million in total in a so-called "grandparent scam." An Ontario Provincial Police logo is shown during a press conference in Barrie, Ont., on April 3, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

TORONTO — Fourteen alleged members of an organized gang are facing dozens of charges after 126 people from across Canada lost nearly $1 million in total in a so-called "grandparent scam," Ontario Provincial Police announced Thursday, saying the fraud caused more than just financial distress. 

OPP Deputy Commissioner Marty Kearns said several scam victims – many of whom were seniors – experienced severe emotional pain after losing money they had saved over a lifetime.

"This not only affects their future plans, but also puts them into a state of uncertainty with increased stress," he said during a news conference in Toronto.

"Victims who have been defrauded often struggle with shame and humiliation, which can lead to significant emotional, psychological and physical damage."

The alleged scammers were impersonating judges, lawyers, and police officers on phone calls and leading their victims to believe their loved ones were in distress and urgently needed money for bail or other fees, investigators said. The victims were between 46 and 95 years old, police said. 

"They targeted people with landline telephones and, in most instances, they utilized money mules or couriers to collect large amounts of money from the victims," said OPP Det. Insp. Sean Chatland, adding that victims' personal information was known to the suspects through publicly available information on the internet.

Police said the 126 victims they identified were scammed between January and April 8. But investigators said they believe there are hundreds more who've fallen victim in the past to the "grandparent scam." 

Chatland said their search for the fraudsters began in September 2022 and turned into a multi-jurisdictional effort between police services in Quebec and Ontario in February 2023 after details emerged that victims lived in places across Canada, but mostly in Ontario.

"It took us a significant period of time to really understand this group, to understand how they operated, to even just identify them," Chatland said.

When investigators got closer to the suspects, they began tracing phone calls to locate them.

Police said between April 10 and this week, officers arrested the 14 people at addresses across the Montreal area and investigators laid 56 charges in total. Four of the suspects remain in custody.

"Charges include involvement in organized crime groups, extortion, impersonating a police officer, and fraud ... we're talking about violence and threats of violence," the OPP detective said.

Chatland said police have been able to recover about $500,000 in losses after collaborating with financial institutions, but they believe there are hundreds more victims who've lost thousands more because the fraud is under-reported.

Sûreté du Québec Deputy Director General Benoit Dubé said the "grandparent scam" should be a reminder for Canadians that it is crucial to resist pressure from scammers to act quickly.

"When receiving a call or a message asking for money or personal information, take the time to verify the validity of the story being presented to you," he said.

"There has been a significant increase in the reporting of economic and financial crime over the last five years."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 18, 2024.

Fakiha Baig, The Canadian Press

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