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Calgary seniors try new approach to get victims to talk about scams

In the new Seniors’ Acting Lab play Old Mule, Dot is a senior who thinks she’s in the know when it comes to scams – until she makes a friend online who ends up in an emergency and needs cash fast.

Calgary actor Denise Vaile plays the role of Pearl who has managed to win over Dot’s trust.

“Pearl is a scammer. She probably isn’t even a woman. She could be anything. Could be a man in a foreign country,” said Vaile at a rehearsal for the play at the University of Calgary on Saturday.

In real life, Vaile knows what it’s like to be deceived.

“I’m too trusting. You think that’s supposed to be a good thing about your character but sadly you can’t be too trusting.

“I think I’m already quite aware of these sort of things that are going on. I was actually scammed myself but here’s the funny part – by a friend,”  Vaile said.

“The sad thing is, I think that scamming has become an industry. Just like drugs,”

The Seniors’ Acting Lab is exploring issues surrounding trust when it comes to both strangers and family members and how important it is for seniors to have people to turn to to get a second opinion.

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“There must be a very good family relationship. When the family relationship is very good, seniors can depend on their families,” said Pat Chan, director of the play.

Actor Jonathan Macfarland described how he came very close to falling for a slick scammer over the phone when he was about to give his credit card information.

“Suddenly it hits me. This is a scam!  I said I’m not doing this anymore. I put the phone down. You think it won’t happen to you but it can.  That’s the scary thing,” Macfarland said.

“There’s constant scamming. It happens to me almost every day. I get phone calls, asking for my credit card number, there’s a problem with the computer or there’s a false charge on my credit card,” Mcfarland said.

After the Jan. 27 performances of the play, the Seniors’ Acting Lab will be hosting a panel of local experts on seniors and fraud.

The panel will consist of representatives from the Calgary Police Service, the Alberta Securities Commission, the Take Care, Be Aware program at the Calgary Seniors’ Resource Society and the Better Business Bureau.

“You can engage with anyone but you are in the driver’s seat,” said  Hilary McMeekin, Alberta Securities Commission Director of Communications & Investor Education.

“If someone is pressuring you about an investment opportunity whether it’s at your door or via email, you can push back. Just because they are pressuring, you can take a moment to take a breath and say I need to think about this. I need to do my research,” McMeekin said.

Both the actors and the Alberta Securities Commission hope that making the topic more approachable on stage will encourage real-life victims to speak out.

“The more we talk about it – the more it’s a part of everyday life and the more it hopefully goes reported so we can take action. I’m thrilled about this Old Mule opportunity,”

McMeekin said scams and investment fraud go vastly underreported because of embarrassment or fear of talking about it.

“We can talk about it in more approachable ways like through plays and panel discussions. I hope that it takes away that fear of talking about it and reaching out to agencies like ours or law enforcement bodies,”  McMeekin said.

Old Mule is written by Edmonton playwright Nicole Moeller and  produced by Louise Day.

“At Seniors’ Acting Lab Society, we create original theatre that reflects the current issues facing seniors of today. The stories we tell are stories we believe seniors and their families should be talking about,” Day said.

The play will run for 5 shows only at cSpace Studio Theatre at 1721 29 Ave S.W. from Jan. 25-28.

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