Judy King and Mitch Empey say they are disturbed by how far people will go to take advantage of vulnerable people.
Their father, 88-year-old Harold Empey, is out $2,500 after the siblings claim he was lured out of his retirement complex in Saskatoon and into waiting cabs, where he was driven to a bank to withdraw money.
“I was sick to my stomach,” Judy said, after receiving a call from Affinity Credit Union informing her that her father was back and trying to withdraw money for a third time.
Judy and Mitch raced to the bank. They said they boxed in the cab their father had arrived in and confronted the driver while waiting for the police to arrive.
One day earlier, on June 8, the family said their dad was contacted on his landline phone by someone informing him he had won a truck and $250,000 through the STARS Lottery.
The catch was that Harold was told he had to send in money to receive his prize. That’s when the person on the phone went to work on him.
“These people are very intelligent. They can read the people on the other side as to their state of mind,” explained Mitch.
“They saw they had a live one that they can maybe get some money out of, (and) they just kept going.”
The family said they have pieced together a timeline through bank and taxi receipts. They said their father was picked up from Preston Park Retirement Residence and driven to Affinity Credit Union to withdraw the money, then to a post office to send it.
According to the family, the first withdrawal on June 8 was made at 2:04 p.m. for $500, and another withdrawal of $1,900 occurred at 3:07 p.m.
Vascular dementia has caused Harold to lose most of his short-term memory. Both Judy and Mitch questioned how their father could have carried out the caller’s instructions without help.
“Our dad’s dementia has progressed to the point he has to be prompted for every move he makes,” Judy said. “He would not have known to walk out of that cab to do something. He would have had to be prompted.”
Mitch received a call later that evening from his dad, saying he had won a prize and to come over and take a picture of his new truck.
The family locked down his bank account and instituted hourly wellness checks. Mitch said he zip-tied the patio gate to prevent his dad from leaving his main floor unit again.
Despite the safeguards, the scam didn’t end there. The family said their dad received another call on Thursday, June 9, this time asking him to withdraw $10,000.
“From the time (staff) left dad’s suite to the front desk, dad received a call and had already got into a cab. So they were sitting there, waiting,” said Mitch
“The Thursday call, that was making us want to throw up.”
So far, no one has been charged in relation to this investigation.
The Saskatoon Police Service said they are familiar with this type of scam, but noted the use of taxis was “unusual.”
“Of course we would like to catch them, but our goal is to get people talking,” said Judy.
“Get the conversation going about how easy it is to manipulate these elderly people. Hopefully not go through what we’ve been through.”
The family has since taken control of his bank account, cancelled his phones, and moved him to a new suite in the building without a main floor patio.
Arrangements are also being made to include fraud awareness information in a program Harold created himself.
‘Just In Case’ is a binder to help families handle the affairs of loved ones in the event of emergency, incapacity or death.
“We have communicated with the woman that is looking after that. She gets in front of a lot seniors and financial people. (She) will bring this to the forefront,” said Mitch. “That’s happened, which is a positive note.”
Charity also a victim
Chief fundraising and brand officer for STARS, Terri Strunk said she was distressed when she first saw the story and the link to her organization.
“Your heart falls,” Strunk said.
“Unfortunately, as much as the individual is a victim so is the charity. There’s non-profits across Canada that rely on fundraising to continue to operate and provide valuable services to people.”
Strunk said the organization regularly receives phone calls from the public about fake windfalls with their lottery which can hurt their reputation.
When scams are reported to them the information is shared on their social media pages. Strunk said with their Saskatchewan lottery in market right now it makes the scam seem more legitimate.
“The first thing to know is we will never ask you for money to claim a prize,” she said.
“Check-in before you do anything. So we advise people through as many channels as we can about how to be more aware to protect yourself.”
Attempts to reach YXE City Cabs and Captain Taxi for comment were not successful.