indicatorBanking and Fraud Prevention

Protecting vulnerable friends and family members from fraud

Financial abuse can happen to anyone.

By ATB Financial 5 August 2022 4 min read

Many people are aware of “grandparent scams” (more on those below), and are eager to help protect their elderly loved ones from being defrauded. It’s true that old age, physical and social isolation, infirmity and poor mental health are all factors that can increase an individual’s risk of being successfully targeted by a scammer

However, financial abuse can also be perpetrated on young, socially engaged people in good health. Let’s talk about what it looks like to be vulnerable to phishing schemes and other scams, and how to protect yourself and your friends and family members from fraud. 

Canadians’ vulnerability to fraud 

Recent Canadian studies on investing and mass marketing fraud have found that, contrary to the “grandparent” profile, those under 30 and middle-income earners are the individuals most likely to be defrauded in Canada, though scam victims in their fifties tend to lose the most money. Education and income levels are not reliable indicators of vulnerability; people with university degrees and annual incomes over $100,000 are just as likely to be victimized as people with less than a high school education and incomes under $30,000.

Looking specifically at fraudulent investment scams, the Canadians most likely to be victimized are characterized by overconfidence in their investing prowess, frequent trading, comfort with high levels of risk, high levels of education and their belief that most people can be trusted.

Overall, it’s estimated that Canadians were defrauded of $123 million in 2023.

Grandparent scams

As the name implies, a grandparent scam is a scam specifically targeting elderly people who are often isolated and lonely. Usually, the scammer poses as a family member, often a grandchild who claims to need money urgently to deal with an emergency situation (such as being arrested, getting into a car accident with a rental car or being sick or injured in a country without public health care). Bad actors using the grandparent scam often mention that their target is being watched, and/or that the target should avoid contacting their financial institution, the police or any other authorities.

While grandparent scams are a particularly vicious and distressing example of scammers’ attempts to defraud vulnerable people, they aren’t the only or the most prevalent fraud strategy to be aware of.

Talking to vulnerable friends and family members about fraud

If you think that someone close to you is being targeted by fraudsters, there are some concrete steps you can advise them to take for their own protection. 

Phishing schemes and other scams are becoming more and more sophisticated, and even individuals who pride themselves on their savviness may not be aware of the strategies fraudsters are now using against their victims. 

Signs and solutions to prevent personal and financial data breaches from scammers:

  • Familiarizing oneself with the signs of a fraudulent message
  • Viewing urgent, vague or unexpected requests for information with skepticism
  • Getting used to looking up domain names and phone numbers to confirm a message sender’s identity
  • Learning how to ensure sites and emails are secure before inputting information 

If you are particularly concerned with helping your older friend or relative avoid being taken in by a grandparent scam, you can advise them to pay close attention in situations involving unexpected communication from a family member who has been out of contact for a long time, communication from a “grandchild” who does not immediately identify themselves by name, urgent requests for money, and implied threats. 

You can also help your loved one set up two-factor authentication on important accounts, recommend using a different password for each account, and help them to create a secure digital or physical record of their login information for different accounts if memorization is a problem for them. 

What to do if someone you love becomes a victim of fraud

A loved one who has become a victim of fraud may need both emotional and practical support.

Helping your loved one understand and recognize that they have been defrauded may be a necessary—but not necessarily simple— first step. Almost all victims of fraud report feeling a deep feeling of shame, and may be unable or unwilling to admit what has happened to them. Do your best to reassure your loved one that this difficult situation is not their fault and that many people are susceptible to scammers’ techniques.

Make sure that your loved one reports the fraud to the authorities, and contacts their financial institution to inform them of any fraudulent transactions and ensure their accounts are protected in the future. 

Be aware that a person who has been targeted once might be targeted again. Once someone has become a victim of a scam or fraud, the security of their personal information—including information that has not been used directly by the fraudster—could be compromised. The victim’s name could also be shared with other fraudsters. Your loved one may also need help making sure their information (including passwords, banking information, contact information, social insurance and other government ID information) is secure.

When in doubt, call the number on the back of your credit/debit card and speak to an ATB advisor. We are happy to guide clients when there are fraud concerns and assist them in avoiding future breaches of security. 

For more advice on protecting your information and navigating fraud attempts, visit

Protect yourself from scams and fraud

Read these seven tips for keeping your money and identity safe.

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