Vancouver News | Local Breaking | CTV News Vancouver
Fraudster uses 'virtual office' to scam Vancouver videographer out of $15K
Vancouver videographer Blaise Sack typically reviews gadgets on his YouTube channel, but earlier this week, he decided to share a personal story to warn others.
"If I had heard a story like this or if I knew that this whole processing dynamic occurred, I wouldn't have fallen for the scam. So I figured that by sharing my story, hopefully I can get it out and enlighten other people," he said.
Last month, he received an email from someone pretending to be a representative with Western University in Ontario who wanted to purchase drones from him.
Sack owns Moves Media and would use drones in his videos, but he isn't in the business of selling them.
"It wasn't totally out of the ordinary, but it was a strange inquiry," he said.
He said he had a supplier who gave him a discount on the seven drones and then he sold them for a profit.
He used credit card processing company Square to do the transaction. He said a representative with Square had looked into the payment and told him that it went through.
Once Sack thought the transaction was legitimate, he sent out $15,000 worth of drones to the scammer.
But a week later, he was given different news.
"All of a sudden, I get a notification from Square saying there had been a chargeback on the credit card and the money was going to be physically removed from my bank," he explained.
A chargeback occurs when the consumer notices a fraudulent activity on their credit card and is able to have the funds returned.
"The credit card company isn't taking the hit, it's the merchants….they're the ones losing the money here," he said.
Using Google Maps to find the package
Once Sack realized the transaction was fraudulent, he said he was in a panic to get the drones back. He realized he didn't ship it to the university, but to a business district in Ottawa.
He used Google Street View to figure out where the package could have possibly been delivered to by calling all the businesses in the area.
After several calls, he finally found the receptionist who accepted the package.
"She told me the customer was a little suspect; they had been renting from them for over six months and she'd been shipping products all over the world for six months and he's been paying for their services with fraudulent credit cards," Sack said.
After some back and forth, he was able to prove that those drones did belong to him and they were eventually sent back to him.
But his nightmare was not quite over. The drone supplier he used, Candrone, refused to give him a full refund even though it had been less than 30 days.
"It had been such a roller coaster ride; I couldn't believe I was back in the dip. I thought the saga was over but apparently not," he said.
Eventually, the company charged him a $3,000 restocking fee and he was able to get the rest of the money back.
"It could’ve been a lot worse; I could’ve been out a lot more money. It's a huge learning experience," he said.
Too good to be true? Then it probably is
Steven Wilson, a Vancouver-based certified fraud examiner, said using virtual offices is nothing new for fraudsters and Sack's experience has the hallmarks of a typical scam.
"It always has the components of a traditional scam," Wilson said. "There's an opportunity to make a quick buck here, they're probably going to pay top dollars in exchange for needing the merchandise fairly quick….the victim, unfortunately, always has that component of greed."
He advises when business owners receive a call or email from someone they don't usually deal with and the proposal seems too good to be true, then to wait 24 hours and discuss it with someone they trust.
He said in Sack's case, his first move should have been to contact the university directly to see if the institution was requesting the drones.
Sack has also learned to be careful accepting credit cards without meeting the person face-to-face because there's always a possibility of a chargeback.
Square and Candrone did not respond to CTV News' request for comment. Once a response has been received, this story will be updated.