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Fourteen People Arrested in $2.2M Grandparent Scams

Fourteen individuals have been arrested in Montreal in connection with an emergency grandparent scam that has resulted in seniors across Canada losing over $2.2 million since February 2022, according to the OPP, who made the announcement on Thursday.

In this scam, a person posing as a police officer or lawyer would falsely claim that the victim’s grandchild or family member was in custody. They would then request bail money over the phone for the release of the family member.

Police indicated that in most instances, unsuspecting couriers or “money mules” were employed to collect the funds, and victims were instructed not to discuss the matter with anyone because of a “gag order” that was purportedly in place.

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Described by the OPP as an “extremely organized crime group,” the perpetrators impersonated police officers, judges, and other legal authorities, as well as the victims’ loved ones. OPP Det. Insp. Sean Chatland shared with the press on Thursday that it took a considerable amount of time for law enforcement to decode the group’s operations due to their “deliberate and methodical approach.”

During the initial four months of 2024, 126 victims were identified, collectively losing around $739,000 to the scam. Fifteen of these victims were targeted multiple times, the OPP reported. Over $559,000 in potential losses were either prevented or reclaimed with the help of financial institutions, according to police statements.

The majority of the victims reside in Ontario, ranging in age from 46 to 95.

OPP Dep. Commissioner Marty Kearns mentioned in a media briefing that the actual losses from this scam are likely far greater, estimating that only between five to ten percent of fraud victims report to authorities.

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“Victims were coerced through manipulative tactics to make payments and were further isolated by the threat of a gag order to silence any discussion of the situation,” Kearns noted. He also stated that some victims were “aggressively threatened” to make immediate payments.

The fraud was described by Chatland as “mentally and financially life-altering” for the victims.

In September 2022, the OPP initiated an investigation into a group allegedly involved in this fraud. By February 2023, this investigation had evolved into a joint forces operation named “Project Sharp,” led by the OPP Criminal Investigation Branch and including 11 police forces from Ontario and Quebec. Several police departments from the Greater Toronto Area, such as York, Toronto, Peel, and Durham, participated in the task force.

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From April 10-16, this task force arrested 14 individuals and issued 56 charges, as reported by the OPP in a press release. Four of those arrested remain in custody, according to Chatland.

The charges include being part of a criminal organization, fraud, extortion, and impersonating a peace officer.

“This crime extends beyond mere financial distress,” Kearns added, acknowledging the “emotional suffering” endured by the victims.

Kearns also praised the collaborative effort among the various police forces, stating, “Today, our provinces are safer because of these collective efforts.”

Chatland concluded by remarking that the emergency grandparent scam “undermined our entire criminal justice system.”

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