The Better Business Bureau in mainland B.C. is warning senior citizens of a re-emerging phone scam that tricks grandparents into sending money to supposed grandchildren in an emergency.

At least two seniors in Chilliwack and six from one Surrey-based assisted-living centre have fallen prey to the "grandparent scam."

The two Chilliwack seniors got calls from a con posing as a 22-year-old grandson, who claimed he was stranded in a Toronto jail and needed money to get out, the bureau said.

"This scam preys on the emotions of seniors who want to help their grandchildren," bureau president Lynda Pasacreta said in a statement. "We want people to take a step back when they are called and verify who they are speaking to is a relative and not a scamster."

So far this year, the grandparent scam, also known as the "emergency scam," has sparked 48 complaints in B.C. alone. Twenty-one victims have lost a total of $71,123.

Across Canada, 356 complaints have been made to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre so far this year, with 108 people reporting they were victimized and lost $370,424, said Cpl. Louis Robertson, who heads the centre, also known as Phone Busters.

That's an increase from 2008, when 130 complaints were made. That year 69 people were actually victimized and lost $157,452.

The scam first came to light about two years ago and has been circulating ever since. In August, the U.S. branch of the Better Business Bureau sent out a nationwide advisory, warning seniors about calls from supposed grandchildren in trouble.

Scammers use tricks

Many of the scammers were in Canada, the bureau noted at the time. A senior would be told a supposed grandchild had been arrested or involved in an accident in Canada, and needed money to post bail or pay for damages.

"One well-meaning grandmother sent $15,000 US to scammers, thinking she was helping a grandchild who had been in an auto accident," the U.S. bureau wrote in its August advisory.

The scammers use little tricks to con seniors. They might start off the conversation, saying, "It's me, your favourite grandchild," to which the grandparent will guess the name. Or they might say, "Grandma? Do you know who this is?" Once the grandparent offers a name, the scammer uses it to gain credibility.

The bureau advises seniors not to give out grandchildren's names to people on the phone and to verify the story with other family members before sending off money, even if time seems of the essence.

A major red flag is when the "grandchild" asks that money be sent through Western Union or MoneyGram. Funds sent via wire transfers are hard to track once received by scammers and are usually not recoverable by law enforcement or banking officials.