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Grandparent scam suspects had ties to Italian organized crime, police allege

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A group of suspects that allegedly defrauded seniors across Ontario and other parts of Canada using a so-called emergency grandparent scam appear to have ties to "Italian traditional organized crime," according to an investigator involved in the OPP-led probe.

Details of the interprovincial investigation, dubbed Project Sharp, were announced at a news conference in Scarborough on Thursday morning.

Police said 56 charges have been laid against 14 suspects, who were all arrested in the Montreal area.

Deputy Chief Benoit Dubé, with the Sûreté du Québec, said it is believed that the suspects were part of a group that had “ties to Italian traditional organized crime.”

According to police, since January, investigators have identified 126 victims who were defrauded out of a total of $739,000. Fifteen of those victims were targeted on multiple occasions, police said, resulting in the loss of an additional $200,000.

 

Majority of victims from Ontario

The victims, who range in age from 46 to 95, resided across the country, police said, adding that the majority were from Ontario.

According to investigators, four of the 14 suspects remain in custody while the other 10 have been released on bail. The charges they face include involvement in organized crime groups, extortion, impersonating a police officer, and fraud, police said.

OPP Det.-Insp. Sean Chatland told reporters Thursday that the investigation began as an intelligence probe in September 2022.

“It took us a significant period of time to really understand this group, to understand how they operated, to even just identify them,” Chatland said.

“Once we were able to identify this group, we moved to a criminal investigation immediately.”

By February 2023, Chatland said the probe was formalized into an OPP-led joint forces investigation involving police services in both Ontario and Quebec.

“This organized crime group demonstrated a deliberate and methodical approach in exploiting victims. They operated out of Ontario and Quebec, utilizing emergency grandparents scams on victims across Canada,” he said.

“They would impersonate police officers, judges, lawyers, and loved ones, preying on grandparents who believed they were trying to help family members in trouble.”

The victims, according to police, were instructed by the suspects not to speak to anyone due to a "gag order" that was in effect.

Police are shown at a news conference announcing the results of a multi-jurisdictional investigation into the grandparents scam. (CP24)

 

Victims had landlines

Chatland said in many cases, the suspects utilized “money mules” or couriers to collect large sums of money from the victims.

The victims, he said, were targeted based on the fact that they had landline telephones.

According to Chatland, the information the suspects used to defraud the victims was publicly available on the internet.

He said the impact on the victims in this case has been “devastating.”

“This investigation is far more than fraud,” Chatland said. “This organized crime group affected victims right across Canada in a manner that will be both mentally and financially life-altering for many.”

He said investigators have “collaborated closely” with financial institutions and the Canadian Bankers Association to recover more than $500,000 in losses.

Police are seen taking evidence from a building in Quebec during a interprovincial investigation dubbed 'Project Sharp.' (Handout)

 

Fraud ‘massively underreported’

Chatland said the OPP believes the group is responsible for more than $2.2 million in losses since the intelligence probe was launched in 2022.

“That is what we have been able to establish but we suspect it is probably larger than that,” he said.

He noted that the OPP believe only about five to 10 per cent of all fraud cases are actually reported to police.

“Fraud is massively underreported,” he said. “A lot of that has to do with victimization, with victim-blaming and people just feeling deceived. It is the nature of fraud.”

For a full list of arrests and charges follow this link.

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