That, in the opinion of the House, the government should: (a) recognize the disproportionate effect of fraud activities against the seniors community across Canada; (b) coordinate a national response to fraud activities to ensure that seniors and other vulnerable groups have the resources they need to understand the signs of fraud; (c) establish tangible recourses for victims of fraud; and (d) work with local law enforcement agencies and the Canada Revenue Agency to introduce legislation to combat fraudulent attacks targeting vulnerable seniors.
Mr. Speaker, it is with great pride that I stand in this place to speak to my private member's motion, Motion No. 203, with regard to seniors fraud. While I am eager to talk about my motion, I must first acknowledge the contribution of our Conservative team.
I want to thank my colleague from Edmonton West and his staff for their hard work on this motion, as well as his engagement with seniors and stakeholders in Edmonton and across Canada. While he may not quite be a senior yet, it is very reassuring to see him and the younger generation of members in this place recognize the incredible value that our seniors contribute to our day-to-day lives. I have every confidence that he will be a stalwart champion of our wisest demographic for many years to come in this place.
I would also like to take this opportunity to thank my colleague from Langley—Aldergrove for all of his hard work on the seniors file, as well as his constituents. In the next Parliament, this place will be losing a dedicated and principled advocate for seniors, for their financial security and palliative care. I look forward to continuing our relationship when he departs from Ottawa later this year for his retirement.
May 18, 2011 remains as one of the most important days in my life. That was the day I was sworn in as minister of state for seniors under the previous government. It was a role that I served in with great reverence and respect for over four years. Being the voice at the cabinet table for nearly a quarter of Canadians is no small task. Each and every day, I went into the ministry with the hope of making life easier and fairer for the nearly five million Canadians I was asked to represent, in addition to my 100,000 constituents in the city of Richmond.
I am very proud of the work we did as a cabinet, including working with my colleague from Niagara Falls in implementing changes to the Criminal Code to combat seniors fraud. I hope today, with the support of all parties, to continue that work.
Unfortunately, domestic and foreign criminal elements are increasingly resorting to fraud in an effort to make a quick profit off of those who are most vulnerable. Our seniors have spent their entire lives building our country and deserve to live out their golden years with the dignity, respect and safety that they have earned. This is why I have tabled Motion No. 203 on seniors fraud.
In my home riding of Richmond Centre, two of the most popular tactics used by criminals are a famous CRA scam and visa scams. I think we are all aware of the former scam, but I would like to explain the latter.
As we all know, Richmond has a very high population of Chinese speakers, and many of the older generation come from abroad. Many of my constituents have family members who are legally here in Canada on visas or permits. Over the past year, scammers have been calling many of my constituents and claim to be representatives of a foreign embassy or consulate. They then go on to demand that a certain amount of money, under the guise of a visa fee or a similar administrative fee, be paid to them electronically. I have been the target of this scam, as have my staffers.
While some of my younger constituents who have the benefit of being educated from a young age on the dangers of the scams may be able to recognize and report this fraud to the relevant authorities, many of the seniors in my riding lack that awareness and knowledge. Couple that with the fact that many seniors are not familiar with the legal minutia surrounding visas and the immigration process, and we have a demographic that is ripe for being targeted by fraudsters, through no fault of their own.
A second scam, which made local headlines in Richmond, involves the targeting of local seniors by scammers posing as employees of the City of Richmond. The scammers call locals and inform them that they need to pay city taxes or a parking fine. However, this scam is lower tech. The scammers indicate that the fee or taxes must be paid in person and arrange a time and place to facilitate payment. In this case, it was the municipal parking lot at Richmond City Hall. Luckily for the individuals involved, they took the step of inquiring about these fees or fines at the city hall beforehand and were able to thwart the scammers.
This is an issue of concern not only for seniors, but for Canadians across this country. In a recent householder, I asked my constituents if they supported my motion. I am extremely proud to say that the overwhelming majority of constituents who responded, regardless of age, supported my motion.
I have also conducted consultative round tables with seniors and organizations serving seniors across the nation. I would again like to thank all of the participants for their contributions toward the debate on Motion No. 203.
This is what they told me.
The Ontario Society of Senior Citizens' Organizations has said that policing authorities cannot opt out of dealing with fraud complaints and reports from seniors. In other words, they need to be part of the solution and given the jurisdiction to do so. Seniors who have suffered or are suffering from fraud do not know where to go for help. There is a need for resources for these victims.
From my own recollection of consultation visits in earlier years, the City of Calgary has an excellent model, which I will discuss later in more detail.
Representatives from the CNIB point out that the most vulnerable are often those who are socially isolated. Seniors can also be better equipped with tools to fight against fraud by increasing their understanding of technology. In other words, they need to be better informed and better educated. A church administrator raised the concern of a lack of resources to advise seniors on how to identify frauds and not become victims.
Another issue, identified by The Neighbourhood Group, is that there is a language barrier for seniors who have limited English or French in understanding the laws and regulations in different levels of government. They are often scared because of the lack of correct information in their own language. This is especially serious in cities where there is a large number of immigrants. This issue was echoed by several cultural groups through the interpreters at the round tables. They also believe in tougher laws and sentencing to fight the criminals, the scammers.
The International Federation on Ageing shared its findings with respect to identifying seniors fraud across the world. It added that there is the need, as one of the prevention tools, to educate front-line bank tellers on awareness of financial fraud targeting seniors. The whole banking industry should be involved.
All these concerns regarding seniors fraud are real. My hon. colleague from Edmonton West had a similar response. However, I will leave it to him to comment on that, as I do not want to steal his speech material.
Canadians from coast to coast to coast are calling on the government to take action to combat seniors fraud. Here are more facts.
Today, we live in a society that is digitizing at an unprecedented rate. We are now able to store massive amounts of information on barely visible microchips and transmit massive amounts of information across vast distances in the blink of an eye. It has allowed for meteoric advances in all fields of society, including health care, infrastructure and research, to name a few. It has played an integral role in propelling humanity to its technological zenith. Its benefits are countless and cannot be understated. However, as with most things, there are unintended and serious drawbacks.
With increasing cellphone use, computers, email, the Internet and other electronic media, the digital shift in the modern economy provides many new opportunities for those who seek to do harm to our seniors. I do not think it is hyperbolic to say that there is not a single member in this place who has not received a complaint from a constituent about phishing, fake romantic interest, foreign embassies demanding visa payments or the infamous CRA calls. Despite efforts to increase digital literacy among all demographics, the reality is that these new and evolving technologies are not always easy to grasp and understand, especially for a demographic that grew up in an age bereft of the immense levels of the digital practices we see today.
Each day scammers are finding new and creative ways to swindle our seniors out of their hard-earned cash. For example, earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Justice charged more than 260 people as a result of the largest elderly fraud sweep in American history. These 260 people managed to steal over three-quarters of a billion dollars from seniors, or nearly $750,000 for each person charged.
While an increasingly digitized society has provided innumerable benefits to society at large, it has also paved the way for new challenges. However, I would suggest that no group is facing these challenges more directly than our seniors. Apart from run-of-the-mill phone scams, statistics show that nearly two-thirds of seniors experience some sort of security issue online but are less likely to report it to authorities compared to younger Canadians. It is this disproportionate vulnerability that the shift to a digital economy has created for an aging population that my motion seeks to address.
Motion No. 203 calls on this place to recognize that seniors are disproportionately victims of fraud and scams that target vulnerable Canadians. The data is crystal clear and irrefutable. According to a 2010 report by the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, older Canadians were deemed to be at a heightened risk of attempted fraud for a number of reasons, including, but not limited to, their trusting nature, their isolated social status and their personal savings. This is why I started working closely with banks and credit unions when I was appointed the minister responsible for seniors in 2011, which resulted in the age credit, the pension income tax credit, pension income splitting and steps aimed at increasing digital literacy. The previous Conservative government also passed Bill C-36, the Protecting Canada's Seniors Act, in 2012, which included vulnerability due to age as an aggravating circumstance for sentencing purposes.
The problems facing seniors today are more pronounced because of increasing amounts of fraud and an increasing senior population. Government statistics reveal that seniors are the fastest-growing demographic group in Canada. By 2030, the number of seniors will reach 9.6 million people, representing close to one-quarter of Canada's population. The life expectancy of Canadians is expected to continue to rise. Canadian men and women born in 2016 will live, on average, to 87 and 90 respectively, according to Employment and Social Development Canada in February 2019.
Recognizing that the dregs of civil society would target people specifically because of their trusting nature and their inability to readily rely on family is a very uncomfortable spectre, but it is a reality nevertheless. I, and I hope many in this place, consider making this formal recognition in this House a very important step in continuing the fight against seniors fraud.
The next step in addressing this very serious—