It’s a jungle out there—especially for people of a certain age.
Old age has always been a mixed blessing. It’s considered a privilege by many but it comes with endless challenges that worsen with each passing year.
Technology has become the bane of our long existence.
For one thing, scammers are multiplying like a virus, preying on the aged because we’re seen as an easy target.
The damnable people behind the schemes recognize that older folks’ faculties are not what they once were—hearing, sight, acuity, for example. And let’s face it, we of a certain age are a generation more trusting and naive than our tech-savvy offspring.
Just this week I was on the cusp of getting scammed.
My husband and I received the identical email from a longtime friend with the subject “catching up”. It began with some well wishes and closed with, “I need a little favour from you.”
Like most people these days who own a phone and use the internet, we are used to scammers.
We both smelled a rat on this one but my husband hit the reply button with a message requesting the friend to call him. He got no response.
I replied by advising my friend that he had been hacked and should warn his email friends.
Then came a response to me that indicated the message was legitimate and that he needed help in acquiring a Google Play gift card for a cancer-stricken niece celebrating a birthday. His own local stores were out of stock and efforts to make the purchase online were unsuccessful.
“I was wondering if you could help me get it from any store around you and I’ll reimburse you when I get back first thing on Friday,” read the well-written message.
( I mention the composition of the writing because an expert in scams once told me that scammers purposely use sloppy spelling and grammar to only attract folks less apt to question their authenticity.)
Meanwhile, it was early morning here. I had not yet had my second cup of coffee. I have a great respect and fondness for the alleged writer of the email. And I was being just plain stupid.
I typed a response saying of course I could make some inquiries and apologized for being so suspicious of good intentions. Then sanity prevailed and I hesitated to hit the reply key.
Instead, I wisely picked up the old-fashioned telephone and called my friend. Since early morning people had been calling to report the email in his name was making the rounds hoping to ensnare his family and friends.
A closer examination of the correspondence showed that the emails came from his correct email but the return version was just slightly altered. Someone, somewhere in the world, was just waiting for a victim to take the bait and provide personal information that could cost them a fortune.
Recently, Kingston police warned the public that a local woman was defrauded of $30,000, her entire life’s savings, by a person claiming to be a Canadian Border Services agent.
The caller stated that they were seizing her account due to drugs, fake pieces of identification, and fraudulent accounts being opened in her name. Instructions followed on how she could use their “safeguard machines” to withdraw and transfer a large sum of money to them.
It turns out these machines were in fact Bitcoin machines and a subsequent caller who identified himself as a Kingston police officer was part of the scam. He used a device known as “spoofing”—when phone numbers are masked or replicated to indicate they are from a police department or other credible institution.
It’s easy to say that this woman should have known better. But this is a game between innocent, trusting, law-abiding citizens and smart, professional crooks who have no conscience but great skills with technology.
A close friend whose use of English is somewhat limited and whose native country is known for its criminal element, called us a while ago because he had just been contacted by Revenue Canada and warned that the police would arrive at his door shortly if he didn’t pay thousands of dollars in unpaid taxes.
My husband advised our distraught friend to call his accountant for peace of mind and the police for assurance this is not how things operate in this country.
Similar scams are being reported to police departments everywhere all the time. Many of the callers are scared and remorseful seniors.
Another case we are personally familiar with involves a close friend who for years covered the police beat for the Toronto Star and was the son of a veteran police officer and familiar with the crime scene.
To his great embarrassment, he fell hook, line and sinker for a scam when he got a phone call from a young man who was distraught and identified himself as our friend’s grandson.
Someone alleging to be the kid’s lawyer came on the line and said the young man was in jail in Montreal, charged with impaired driving, and it would cost $5,000 to get him released. Meanwhile, the boy begged not to have his parents contacted.
Our friend panicked. He headed to the bank and transferred the money and waited to hear that the boy was safe and had been released.
Instead, a few hours later there was another call from the lawyer demanding more money.
At this point, our friend realized he had been scammed, called his daughter, and was grateful to learn her son was alive and well and at home.
In another incident, at least three separate residents of a large retirement home in Toronto were hit with the same scam. But they got lucky.
No self-respecting grandchild—even one in despair—would address these particular grandparents the way the would-be scammer did.
The chances of these grandparents being scammed would have greatly increased if the scammer had known to use the affectionate Yiddish names Bubbee or Zaydee.
Meanwhile, we old folks will just soldier on in the daily struggle to cope with technology that is not part of our DNA. Many of us have grandchildren who have become our lifeline if you can get them on the telephone and lure them over with a homemade pie or a beer.
They don’t make computers for old people. Ditto for cell phones. Things just keep getting smarter while the rest of us struggle to just hold our ground. Pray your appliances don’t wear out. A new dishwasher can take days to figure out. The once-simple television with rabbit ears has become a mind-boggling maze of choices to baffle people who just want to see a hockey game or the news.
The pandemic has been especially challenging when governments persist in telling us to go online to do this or that when many old folks don’t have access to a computer.
Some folks managed to get their vaccine receipts thanks to the local library or caregiver and now they’re told they need something called a QR code.
This weekend I will join good friends who have been gathering monthly for more than 20 years.
It used to be easy. Now, many of our friends live in condos with security akin to the Bank of Canada.
Many are the times we’ve been left in lobbies, hungry and clutching our bottle of wine, shouting at the access call system and praying a pizza delivery person will come along and rescue us.
My hostess for this Friday has emailed failproof instructions to get into her building. God willing, I will remember to take with me the secret sequence of numbers and hear the lock on the inner entrance click so I can find the elevator and hope not to encounter a fellow traveler who shouts at me for entering her space during a pandemic.
Someone said old age is not for sissies. They sure got that right!
Sally Barnes has enjoyed a distinguished career as a writer, journalist and author. Her work has been recognized in a number of ways, including receiving a Southam Fellowship in Journalism at Massey College at the University of Toronto. A self-confessed political junkie, she has worked in the back-rooms for several Ontario premiers. In addition to a number of other community contributions, Sally Barnes served a term as president of the Ontario Council on the Status of Women. She is a former business colleague of Doppler’s publisher, Hugh Mackenzie, and lives in Kingston, Ontario. You can find her online at sallybarnesauthor.com.