Durham Regional Police have charged three people in an alleged grandparent scam crime ring.
In the scam, victims receive a phone call from someone pretending to be a lawyer representing their grandchild.
The victim is convinced their grandchild has been in a car accident and injured a pregnant female.
They are told $9,000 in bail money is required and it’s picked up by a courier at their home — because courts were closed due to COVID.
Once the first payment was handed over, some victims were then told the injured female and/or her baby had died, and more bail money was required.
Police have arrested several suspects believed to have been connected to at least seven incidents in Durham.
Daniel Karasira, 20, of North York, is charged with participating in a criminal organization; four counts of fraud over $5,000; and two of possession of proceeds of crime.
Usman Oyeneye, 24, of Newmarket, is charged with participating in a criminal organization; three counts of fraud over $5,000; possession of proceeds of crime; and failing to comply with undertaking.
Jahmal Herbert, 20, of Scarborough, is charged with participating in a criminal organization; two counts of fraud over $5,000; and two of possession of proceeds of crime.
According to Det.-Sgt. Laura Middleton, these arrests are believed to be just the tip of the iceberg.
In an interview Wednesday, Middleton said she had 79 cases involving a grandparent scam just in Durham, and police fear there are many more victims out there.
(The three suspects are allegedly connected to several cases, but not all the cases Middleton is looking at.)
Middleton made it clear that victims are not “doddering” or feeble or vulnerable because of their age — they are vulnerable because of an emotional reaction.
“These are bright, articulate people who fall victim to these crimes because they are so panicked and upset,” she said.
DRPS is working with police all over Ontario because these scams are so widespread.
In Durham alone, the total cost to victims so far is approaching half a million dollars.
Those fleeced by these scams are coached by the callers to go to the bank and withdraw the money; victims are told there’s a gag order on the case, so they are not to discuss it with anyone.
Should a bank employee ask any questions, they are instructed to say the money is for home renovations or travel.
In some cases, victims are kept on their cellphone until the transaction is completed.
Middleton knows there will be more victims — and more accused — and hopes this story will prompt others to come forward.
As one victim who chose to remain anonymous said, “We just couldn’t believe it. The person on the phone sounded just like our grandchild, and our grandchild drives for a living — it was all within the realm of possibility.”
This is still an active investigation, said Middleton.
“We are hoping more people will come forward,” she said. “Any video, descriptions, license plate information victims might have is crucial.”
“We really want to get the word out, and it’s difficult, because many seniors are not on social media. We really need people to speak to their family members and let them know this is happening,” Middleton added.
Those behind these scams, said Middleton, are very well organized.
“People are embarrassed and they feel so foolish to have been taken advantage of in this way,” said Middleton, adding every single victim has said they never thought this could happen to them — but that’s how sophisticated the crimes are.
“Anyone getting this kind of call has to hang up and verify — call the parent of your grandchild, call another family member, call the police.”
Anyone with a landline telephone may be extra-vulnerable, as Canada 411 and other directory services often list an address.
Scam prevention suggests never answering the phone if you don’t recognize the number.