Talking to your parents about scams

Moira White

Adult woman talking to her mother

When you were a child, your parents probably warned you about talking to strangers.

It can also be dangerous for adults to talk to strangers, although the threat takes a different form. Strangers may try to gain adults’ trust in order to steal their money. And older people — like our parents — may be particularly vulnerable.

Do we want to live in a world where we can trust no one? Of course not. But we need to protect ourselves, and we need to help our parents — who grew up in a time when fraudsters were less sophisticated — protect themselves.

People trying to defraud us may reach us by mail, phone or the Internet. They may even show up on our doorsteps. They may try to steal a little money or a lot. They may pose as tradespeople, as canvassers for worthy causes or as friends or family members in trouble. They may claim to be delivering prizes for contests we don’t remember entering.

Does it sound too good to be true?

If you don’t remember entering a contest, you probably didn’t. If a stranger offers you something for nothing, there’s probably a catch. And if you’re a genuine prize winner, you’ll never — never! — be asked to advance money to collect your winnings.

These scams take place in the open. They require us — and our parents — to distinguish honest tradespeople and real representatives of worthy causes from charlatans.

So ask for identification. Be careful what information you share and never let yourself be bullied into signing something you don’t understand. Don’t let strangers into your home. Request — and call — references from tradespeople. Call the Better Business Bureau. And phone the organizations the people at your door claim to represent to see if they have canvassers in your neighbourhood.

Out of sight

Some frauds take place in your absence. Fraudsters can steal your personal information and use it to get cell phones, credit cards and even mortgages in your name. There’s no certain way to prevent identity theft. But you can make it harder for the thieves if keep your passwords secret, hide your PIN, don’t share your driver’s licence or health card numbers and check your credit bureau report at least yearly. Shred your bills, unsolicited credit applications and anything else with personal information like your address.

Keep your private information private.

The talk

How do you have this conversation with your parents? Sometimes it’s best to forget they’re your parents. How would you warn someone else you cared about — a brother or a sister or a friend? Talk about what you’ve heard or read. Talk about the precautions that you’re taking.

And ask how they’re protecting themselves.

And if you suspect a problem, call your local police.

Sources and recommended reading

Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre

The Little Black Book of Scams 2nd edition