On Nov. 18, the Lakes District News office received a letter from Bell Canada. The letter came with a cheque in the amount of $150. Since the newspaper has never had an account with Bell Canada, publisher Laura Blackwell suspected the cheque was a scam.
Blackwell called Bell Canada and was told the company had not sent out any cheques to Lakes District News. The cheque was then taken to RBC Royal Bank in Burns Lake to be analyzed. Branch manager Alice Harris said the encoded part of the cheque (the numbers listed at the bottom) had actually been photocopied.
“This looks odd,” she said. “It usually looks and feels different when you touch.”
Harris said the alleged scammer would not have been able to steal any banking information had the cheque been deposited. However, RCMP’s Cpl. D.J. (Dave) Tyreman said the alleged scammer could have been thinking ahead, planning to call at a later date to say the cheque was a mistake and ask for the publisher’s bank information or even for money back.
Staff sergeant Grant MacDonald with the Burns Lake RCMP said there were no reports of similar fraud cases in the area. However, data from the RCMP website states that only five per cent of people who have been victimized by a scam ever report it.
Harris said she has noticed an increase in the number of frauds lately. She said lots of sales done through Kijiji.ca involve people sending each other cheques. Sometimes people will request a portion of their money back, and that is when people should be skeptical, she said.
Tyreman said that when people make transactions on Kijiji.ca, they should only accept cash.
“If you’re looking at a cheque and you think it’s unsafe, go to the bank so they can exam it,” he said. “Don’t give out the item you’re selling before the cheque clears.”
Tyreman said another classic scam is when people receive a call saying “they have just won a travel credit.”
“Scammers are routing these phone numbers from different countries and you cannot trace where they are calling from,” he said. “If you push so many buttons, you start getting billed long distance at six dollars a minute.”
According to data from the RCMP website, it is estimated that between $10 and $30 billion are lost each year to frauds in Canada, a figure comparable to drug trafficking revenues. The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre lists over 25 types of scams on their website, adding that “new types of scams are created every day.”
“We want the public to know that if it’s too good to be true, chances are it is not,” said Tyreman. “These scammers pray on the people who are naive, very honest and the elderly.”
Tyreman said some types of scams target the elderly population specifically.
“They [elderly people] usually receive a call in the middle of the night saying, ‘hey, can you guess who this is?’”
The person who answers the phone usually thinks it’s a family member who is calling, and try to guess a name. The scammer will say “yes” to whatever name the person might have guessed, and will proceed to say he or she “has gotten into some trouble and need some money to be sent.”
According to Tyreman, some elderly suffer from impaired hearing and could easily fall for this scam.
Other times, scammers might call and say it’s from a bank, said Tyreman. The scammer will say the person “has made a recent deposit that didn’t go through,” and that they need the person’s bank information to verify the issue.
“Every time someone asks for your identification such as your bank account number, our recommendation is that you hang up and call your local bank,” said Tyreman. “Don’t take any phone number the scammers might give you. Instead, find the company’s number on the back of your credit card and call them directly.”
“People can’t be careful enough with all these scams going on,” he said. “It’s a shame that these fraudsters attempt, and do, take advantage of good people.”