Windsor

Seniors more vulnerable to abuse, scams amid the pandemic, say Windsor advocates

During the COVID-19 pandemic, there's a heightened concern that seniors may be especially vulnerable to elder abuse, and falling victim to financial scams.

Organizers of a community led initiative are noticing an increase in scams targeting seniors

Organizers of a community led initiative are noticing an increase in scams targeting seniors since the pandemic began. (iStockphoto)

An initiative started last summer by Community Legal Aid and a number of agencies in the Windsor region is finding support for the senior community is needed now more than ever.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, there's a heightened concern that seniors may be especially vulnerable to elder abuse, and falling victim to financial scams.

"What happened is we came to realize that seniors typically are already isolated ... So COVID ended up, you know, really putting them in severe isolation. And with that, unfortunately, came the opportunity for more fraud cases to be perpetrated against them," explained Lilian Bahgat, review counsel with Community Legal Aid.

Bahgat said Community Legal Aid started taking on more cases of elder abuse, after a community member named Debbie Desjardins had reached out to the agency looking for resources on the issue of predatory fraud cases involving seniors.

Scams cause 'turmoil' for seniors

Desjardins, who is the co-chair of the Neighbours Helping Neighbours committee in her building, said she's been on mission to help seniors ever since she learned of four cases of fraud in her building in just two years.

Beginning in July of 2019, Bahgat and Desjardins have worked together to create a steering committee, which aims to establish a network for seniors to utilize as a resource, not only to prevent fraud cases, but to support them if they become targeted.

"It's about educating people because there is lots of information out there, but it's very long. When Lillian had done the flyer, it's something you can put on your fridge and people know who to contact," said Desjardins.

Though progress has been made over the last year in establishing the initiative, Bahgat said there are new challenges and fraud schemes associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. She said at the start of the pandemic, she became worried that the isolation was going to impact seniors more negatively than other members of our community.

Lilian Bahgat, Community Legal Aid review counsel, says an new initiative aims to set seniors up with the support they need should they be targeted by fraud or elder abuse. (Jason Viau/CBC)

"The concern was because of the lock down, certain fraudsters...will it try to ingratiate themselves with, you know, under the guise of coming in to assist with even, you know, buying groceries or helping in that sense," said Bahgat.

She added since the pandemic began, one fraudulent scam has been reported that aims to victimize seniors by alerting them that they've been selected for a COVID-19 test.

"So they contact the seniors and let them know that you've been selected for a COVID test. 'The test will be sent out to you. We need your credit card information to send it out.' So, you know, unfortunately, yes, what we suspected to be true did happen," she said.

To deal with the uptick in the last few months, the initiative has reached out to include more agencies and services such as the Ontario Provincial Police, Windsor police, Crime Stoppers and other seniors organizations.

With files from Jason Viau

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