There are three main methods con men use to trick their mark. They try to gain their sympathy, take advantage of greed, or threaten or extort.
If you’re in the wrong frame of mind, your critical thinking skills might shut down. You see and hear what the con man wants you to.
But if a deal seems too good to be true, it likely is. If a salesman pushes you to make a decision without thinking, it will benefit him and not you.
If he really has someone else interested in the deal, why is he pressuring you?
If someone has a sob story about their uncle dying and a bank trying to steal their money, why are they coming to a random person online and not the police?
Most online blackmail scams usually ask for a small amount at first. If they requested $50,000, they know most people would panic and run to the police. They hook you by asking for small amounts.
But if the con man really had dirt on you and you forked over $500, why would they destroy that evidence? They know you will pay to stop them from distributing that dirt. So eventually they’ll come back for more. Before you know it, you’ve given them thousands.
Once they have you on the hook, they reel you in. All it takes is a little time. “Fly to Ecuador and meet our representatives there and you can get your money back,” they say. Then once you’re there, they ask you to take a suitcase to another country and you can have your money back.
The next thing you know, you’re arrested and awaiting trial in another country for being a drug mule.
This may sound implausible but it’s increasingly happening to elderly people. The elderly tend to be easier to entwine in such scams. They’re often financially vulnerable and more likely to be trusting and lacking in sophistication.
Who is a customs person more likely to search: a 70-year-old granny carrying a bag of sweets or a scruffy 25-year-old guy? A number of seniors from Canada, the U.S. and western Europe have been forced into this illicit behaviour. And it’s apparently a growing trend.
The Canada Border Services Agency has issued an advisory to their front-line staff and associated agencies. And the agency is trying to watch for seniors who leave the country under suspicious circumstances. But that’s nearly impossible.
So this really comes down to everyone being more aware.
If somebody contacts you with a business deal or romantic proposal, be cautious and skeptical – assess and reassess every situation.
If someone is trying to extort you based on claimed evidence, consider if what they’re threatening is really worse than losing everything and then being forced to transport drugs.
Keep an eye on each other, particularly family and friends who are seniors. Watch for any erratic behaviour or sudden, spontaneous trips. Ask questions and be involved in their lives. We should do this anyway, of course, but sometimes we get too busy in our own lives.
The price we pay for not paying attention just might be their freedom and safety.
Eamonn Brosnan is a research associate with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.