Phone and online scams are so common in Sudbury that it's a rare day when one doesn't come across Cst. Linda Burns' desk.
Burns, the Greater Sudbury Police Service's seniors and vulnerable adults liaison officer, helps connect seniors with a number of local services to navigate the difficult terrain when someone tries to take advantage of them.
“It's very difficult to navigate the system, so that's what I try to do,” she said. “I support the person, whether it's a complainant or a victim.”
To help bring attention to the issues seniors face, Burns and a number of community stakeholders were at the Sudbury police headquarters Monday to kick off Seniors' Month.
Mayor Brian Bigger read a proclamation officially declaring the month and speakers attested to the important role seniors play in the community, and the vulnerabilities they face on a daily basis.
The theme for the 31st annual Seniors' Month is “Vibrant Seniors, Vibrant Communities.”
And scams of all sorts have become one of the major issues she deals with on a regular basis.
On any given day, says Burns, there are around 700 active scams across Canada.
For the most part, they are notoriously difficult to prosecute because the perpetrators often operate outside of Canada, and use every technological trick in the book to hide their identities.
The scams mainly target seniors because they are more likely to be home during the day, are often less comfortable with technology than their children and grandchildren, and many want to leave something behind for their families after they're gone.
“They become very vulnerable with that, and then they feel stupid,” Burns said. “They feel as though they're ignorant, but they're not. They (criminals) perfect the scams as much as we perfect the safety system for it.”
Burns has seen cases where seniors have lost their life's savings to scam artists. In one recent case she heard about at a conference, a couple lost $138,000 when they thought they had won $1 million in a contest.
“They had to re-mortgage their house at 80,” Burns said.
Because it's so difficult for police to arrest the perpetrators behind many scams, education becomes the best tool to protect the vulnerable.
When front-line officers meet with vulnerable seniors they connect them with Burns, who meets with them in plain clothes and connects them with the services they need in a way that is less intimidating than parking a police car in their driveway.
The police service works closely with other first responders, such as paramedics and firefighters, and organizations like Meals On Wheels, who are often the first point of contact for many seniors in the community.
One issue the fire service deals with often is hoarding.
Capt. Lee Hebert, a senior fire prevention officer with the Greater Sudbury Fire Services, first started to look into hoarding in 2011.
He said he vomited during one of his first home visits because the smell was so strong.
“You see it on TV but you don't perceive it as being in your back door,” Hebert said. “It's here and there's a lot of it.”
A large number of hoarders, he said, are seniors. In many cases, a person lost a spouse and let their hoarding get out of control, to the point where it poses a health and safety concern.
Hebert said a serious hoarder's home poses a greater fire risk, and can create dangerous obstacles for first-responders.
It's often impossible to tell from the outside if someone is a serious hoarder, he added.
Hebert recalled a case two years ago where a 93-year-old man's home had to be bulldozed because it posed such a risk to his health and safety.
The man lived in one of Sudbury's nicer neighbourhoods, Hebert said.
Burns said the work police do with their community partners help ensure seniors in the community remain vibrant.
“To make something work, you have to have the collaborative effort,” she said.