The RCMP is warning about a scam that targets seniors. Mounties say con-artists are using the "grandfather scam" to try to trick seniors into thinking their grandchildren are in trouble and need money right away.

Ninety-year-old Theo Goldberg nearly fell prey to a phone fraud artist who called pretending to be his grandson Peter asking for money. Theo didn't quite understand the instructions, hung up and told a family friend who alerted Theo's real grandson, Peter Goldberg.

"This is probably the coldest, most heartless and despicable scams because it preys on the weaknesses of the elderly, and it tries to leverage the victim to do a really good thing by helping someone out. But in the end it's just one big fraud and it's theft," said RCMP Insp. Tim Shields.

The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre ranks the grandfather scam as one of the top 10 telemarketing scams of 2011.

Peter Goldberg tried calling the scammer who attempted to trick his grandfather, but the trail went cold because the fraud artist hid his real number by using something called caller ID spoofing technology. The technology is readily available on the Internet, according to Telus spokesman Shawn Hall.

"The number itself is legitimate, but someone is spoofing it, so someone, probably offshore is calling as if they're calling from that number using caller ID spoofing, but they're not actually calling from that number," said Hall.

Telus officials would like to see new laws controlling the practice of caller ID spoofing. So would Peter Goldberg, who has nothing but contempt for people who prey on the elderly.

"I think there's a special place in hell for them. Somebody who would take advantage of an elderly person in any situation it's just unspeakable," he said.

Peter and his grandfather have now worked out a code word that they start every phone conversation with, so Theo can be sure he's really talking to his grandson.

The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre advises to watch out for these indicators, to ensure an elderly person hasn't fallen prey to one of these scams:

  • if a distressed senior starts talking about helping out family members or wiring money to a family member in trouble

  • if they mention Western Union or MoneyGram

  • if they start going to the bank more often

  • if they make unusual or multiple withdrawals ranging from five hundred to three thousand in cash

This happens more often than you might think. Last year more than 3,000 grandparent scam complaints were investigated by police. That's a 1,500 per cent increase since 2008.

With a report from CTV British Columbia's Lynda Steele