Reported losses to emergency-grandparent scams in Canada this year have reached nearly $500,000, according to police, who warn that they are on the rise in the Niagara Falls region and western Ontario.

In a news release on Friday, Ontario Provincial Police said scammers are targeting residents in those areas by pretending to be a family member in need of immediate help.

From Jan. 1 to Feb. 16, police said the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre received reports totalling over $491,000 in victim losses in connection with this type of scam.

Last year, Canadians lost a total of $11.3 million due to the grandparent scam, with Ontarians representing over $4.6 million, police said.

The scam usually involves someone impersonating a senior’s grandchild in an attempt to gain credibility, police said. The fraudster would call the victim and inform them that they are in trouble with the police and need money for bail.

“Often, they will say they were in a car collision and drugs were found in the vehicle or they are involved in motor vehicle collision where the other driver has suffered serious injuries,” police said.

The fraudster would then tell the victim they do not want their parents to know, asking them to keep it a secret or that there is a gag order.

“To make the story seem more credible, the caller might also put another person on the phone to act like a police officer, bail bondsman or lawyer. The victim, wanting to help, will withdraw funds from their bank account,” police said.

The scammer would arrange for a courier to come to the victim’s house to get the money, police said, noting that in some instances, the money is sent through a money transfer service.

Police have released some reminders on how to spot the scam:

  • Courts won’t ask for cash to bail out someone in custody and will require people to be present in court
  • Be suspicious of calls that require immediate action and, call police and contact family members directly
  • Never send cash, cryptocurrencies or any other funds to unknown persons, unverified addresses or bank accounts