Skeptical Saskatoon seniors help police trap suspects in 'grandparent emergency scam'

A pair of skeptical Saskatoon seniors contacted police and then set a fraudster trap after getting a call about a grandson in jail.

Couple worked with police to trick alleged fraudsters

Hands and cell phone
Larry and Helen say they initially believed the tale spun by the fraudsters. (Dan Zakreski/CBC)

Two Saskatoon seniors recall the precise moment they turned the tables on three men charged with bilking elderly Saskatoon residents of more than $100,000.

It was late morning on Jan. 10, and Larry and Helen were walking down the hallway of their Nelson Road condo unit, heading to the bank to withdraw $9,000 cash they thought was needed to bail their grandson out of jail. CBC has agreed to not reveal their last name because of their role in the investigation.

"I've heard of this scam many times and I was really quite smugly confident that I'd never get taken in. But not that morning," Larry said.

"We get to the elevator and, thankfully, the brains kick in. You know, that didn't sound much like [our grandson]. And the bail instructions they gave me didn't sound quite great."

The couple went back to their unit. Embarrassment at almost being tricked quickly turned to anger. 

"I'm not just going to let it go by," Larry said.

"Let's see whether maybe the police can do something — turn the tables here."

Three men from Quebec are now in custody charged with 10 counts of fraud over $5,000. Police allege the trio began running the scam Dec. 21 in the city and stole more than $100,000, in $9,000 and $9,800 increments, before running into Larry and Helen.

Larry and Helen recounted how the the day went down from their perspective in an interview with CBC.

It all started around 10 a.m. CST. Larry, 87, was in their den when his landline rang. Helen, 84, was in the other room talking on her cellphone with a friend.

"'Hello, grandpa, how are you?' I said I'm fine. How are you? 'Well, not very good,'" Larry recalled.

"He said he was at work, feeling sick, and then tested positive for COVID. He picked up some medication and was on the way home when he rear-ended a vehicle driven by a lady that was six months pregnant. The airbag went off and they're concerned that her pregnancy might be affected and I confessed that I had my cellphone in my hand and now I'm in jail, grandpa."

The "grandson" said he needed money for bail. He said he could only make one call and was afraid to call his dad. Then he put on a second person who claimed to be his lawyer. That person said the money would be refunded after he made his first court appearance.

Snow piled on street.
Police arrested the suspect Tuesday on the 400 block of Nelson Road. (Dan Zakreski/CBC)

After realizing they were targets for a scam, Larry and Helen called police to say they were still in contact with the suspects. Police agreed to work with Larry and Helen to lure the fraudsters to the couple's condo. The catch was that it was mid-morning and police would not be in place until 4 p.m.

"I thought, what are we going to do till 4 o'clock," Helen said.

They decided to give the fraudsters a taste of their own medicine, spinning a tale. Helen called back and told them the couple had gone to the bank, but it would take a couple hours to cash out a term deposit, and that she had a medical appointment that afternoon.

"Well, he was OK with that. And by the way, he said you need to have the money in a manila envelope," she said.

"He said, 'It needs to be sealed up really well, taped up really well, and I'm going to give you a card file number that you have to write on the envelope.' "

Larry cut up newspaper into bill-sized pieces and stuffed the envelope.

Plainclothes and uniformed officers arrived at 3:30 p.m. They were in the apartment when the suspects called back. Police didn't want to chance spooking the suspects by listening on a second line, so they had Helen repeat instructions aloud to Larry.

Finally, the suspect told Helen that a bail bondsman was on the way. He'd arrive with a driver but not come upstairs "because of protocol," so Helen was to meet him at the door.

He asked Helen what she would be wearing. Helen looked at the female plainclothes officer and described her clothing.

The officer met the man out front and arrested him. The next day, two more suspects were arrested. They are now in custody. Police say the case is still under investigation and there may be more charges.

Larry and Helen have since changed their phone number. They want to share their story with other seniors, to help prevent future frauds.

"I'm feeling a little embarrassed, a little angry that all this happened," said Larry.

"I had that feeling I want that guy to get caught.… we're just so grateful that the police said yeah."


Dan Zakreski is a reporter for CBC Saskatoon.