Henry Sawatzky, 87, is speaking out about his experience in hopes other seniors won't fall for a scam. ((CBC))

Alberta police are again warning seniors about scammers pretending to be their grandchildren and asking for thousands of dollars to get out of detailed predicaments.

Calgarian Henry Sawatzky, 87, was duped out of $7,190 earlier this month after he answered a call from a man who claimed to be his grandson.

The man said he and some friends went to Montreal for a concert in a rented car. After a few drinks, the "grandson," who was behind the wheel, got into a car accident and was arrested for impaired driving, according to the story.

The man said he was on his last of three phone calls at the police station and needed $4,100 in cash wired to his lawyer through Western Union in order to be freed, Sawatzky recalled on Thursday.

'That's why this is such a low-down scam. I mean they play on your heartstrings.' — Henry Sawatzky, scam victim

Sawatzky said the story was believable because his real 22-year-old grandson just graduated from Ryerson University in Toronto and could have taken a road trip to Montreal. His parents were also out of town so Sawatzky couldn't check with them.

The senior withdrew the cash from his bank and wired it to a lawyer named Mark Ruck as instructed.

"[My wife and I] were obviously quite uneasy about the whole thing for the rest of the afternoon and night," he said.

The next day, a man claming to be the lawyer phoned and said he needed more money to deal with a passenger involved in the car crash who may require surgery.

"At this point, I confronted him directly," Sawatzky said. "I said, 'This sounds like a scam to me.'" 

But the lawyer convinced him the claim was legitimate.


Police issued a photo of a person of interest in a fraud case. ((Calgary Police Service))

When Sawatzky returned from the bank a second time, he saw a handwritten sign in the lobby of his seniors complex warning people of a "grandparent scam." And that's when he realized he had been duped.

"The initial reaction was one of, not exactly elation, but relief I guess is the word, because I realized my grandson wasn't involved," Sawatzky said. 

"That's why this is such a low-down scam, I mean they play on your heartstrings. But after reflecting on it a while, there's a certain amount of anger and disgust."

Calgary police released a photo of a "person of interest" in Sawatzky's case, in hopes public tips will help them find the culprits.

People should ask personal questions of any callers claiming to be family, and should consult with other relatives before sending money anywhere, advised police.

Victims often too embarrassed to call police

"It's really despicable that they're preying on the seniors and we want to put an end to it so we need the public's help in trying to educate the seniors so they don't fall prey," said Calgary Sgt. Michelle Hanley.

She said the crime is often not reported because some seniors are embarrassed.

'I should have had questions right away as to which grandchild it was, but I wasn't thinking straight.' — Mabel Fielding, scam victim

Hanley said it's unclear how scammers pick their targets but it's common for several people living in seniors homes or complexes to receive the same kind of phone call.

Mabel Fielding, 86, got a similar call from her "grandson," who had been at wedding in Montreal and said he needed help after a driving infraction.

"I should have had questions right away as to which grandchild it was, but I wasn't thinking straight," she said from her home in Hanna, Alta. "I was worried he was down there and he was in jail and he needed money to get out."

Fielding headed to her bank to withdraw $4,900 but a teller suggested it might be a scam, saving the senior from parting with her money.

"They had a whole story cooked up ahead of time," Fielding said. "And you see with older people, our cogs are getting rusty upstairs. We don't think as fast."

Both seniors came forward with their stories in hopes that other elderly people, who are often on fixed incomes, won't be scammed.

With files from the CBC's Tara Fedun and The Canadian Press