The call often arrives in the middle of the night. "Grandma?" the emotional voice on the other end of the phone asks. "I'm in trouble and I need your help right away." Before long, you're transferring money to what you believe to be a lawyer or police station to get your grandson or granddaughter out of a bind.
That's but one of countless examples of "grandparent scams" designed to prey on trusting seniors, warns Jennifer Fiddian-Green, an investigative forensic accountant who has worked extensively with police forces to track down identity thieves and money launderers.
Scams that target seniors — including the lottery scam and the Microsoft tech-support scam — are a growing trend, Chartered Professional Accountants (CPA) of Canada warn in the newly released e-book Protecting You and Your Money: A Guide to Avoiding Identity Theft and Fraud.
Seniors - many of whom are single and lonely - are also the most common victims of romance fraud.
There are several reasons why seniors are more vulnerable, CPA warns. For starters, they tend to have more money and less debt, and chronic health issues make them dependent on others. Many seniors are isolated and trusting and tend not to report scams - a fact fraudsters count on.
Also, con artists often use technology to gather data and know seniors are less tech savvy than others.
"Seniors may have more time to pay a bit of attention to (phone calls and e-mails) and get caught into this complicated web," says Fiddian-Green.
"The objective of the fraudster is to make that person feel really great or needed in order to get money out of them. They do it again and again and again and all those bits of money add up."
She offers this advice to seniors and others: When you receive an unsolicited request asking for money or for you to do something - by phone, e-mail or traditional mail - you have permission to hang up, delete it or throw it out.
"Organized crime is sophisticated. These calls are coming from people in rooms on the other side of the world. They go through lists of phone numbers and as soon as someone picks up they know exactly what to - hook this fish and reel it in," says Fiddian-Green.
Of course, that doesn't mean you can't help a loved one, she says, pointing to the grandparent scam as an example. "Hang up the phone and call back using a number, your family and resources you're accustomed to."
If you are a victim of fraud, report it. "So often people feel guilt or shame and don't want to report it but know that some of these fraud groups targeting us are really sophisticated. A lot of people are being targeted and a lot of people are responding. That's why (fraudsters) keep doing it," Fiddian-Green says.
"Come forward and share your story. Do it because you want to help others be more aware so we can shut this down and say, 'No, not on my watch. You don't get to steal money from me or my parents.'"
SeniorBusters provides emotional and moral support, education and advice.