Police say phone scammers defrauded seniors out of $3.1 million
Published Wednesday, March 20, 2019 9:58AM PDT
Last Updated Wednesday, March 20, 2019 6:02PM PDT
Vancouver police are warning local seniors after a phone scam convinced five people to transfer massive amounts of money to overseas bank accounts.
The VPD said in each case, the “fraudster” called an elderly person on a landline, pretending to be either a police officer or jewelry store employee. They then convinced the senior that someone had used their credit card to make a large purchase, or that police needed help with a fraud investigation. The seniors were told to hang up and call their bank or 911.
Sgt. Jason Robillard said the callers were pretending to be the good guys.
“They’re not asking them for any information, they’re not asking them for any money, they’re telling them to do the right thing,” Robillard said.
That all changed when the victims picked up the phone the second time. They heard a dial tone, one police say was recorded. And when the seniors called what they thought was their bank, or 911, they were in fact, still talking to a scammer.
Jessica Gunson with the RCMP-led Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, which tracks scams like this one, says she’s not surprised.
“We know that anything criminals can do to make that call seem legitimate, they’re going to do.”
Though she’s not seen the “fake” dial tone before, Gunson says these types of calls usually come into a landline early in the morning, when a person is sleeping, or not yet alert.
She advises that consumers look out for warning signs, which include getting a real person on the phone at the bank, instead of a recorded phone prompt with numeric options.
“Financial institutions are never going to request you transfer money to an external account for security reasons,” Gunson said.
The VPD’s Sgt. Robillard advised those who encounter similar suspicious calls on their landlines to hang up, then call their bank or police using a cell phone.
An alternative, he said, would be to call a friend or family member you trust first, and then make the call to your bank or 911, when you can be 100 per cent sure the original caller is disconnected.
Investigators say they’ve been able to recover $2.5 million in two of the five cases. They’re not sure if they’re dealing with one or multiple fraudsters, but say the scam involves an overseas element.
Police also believe there may be additional victims and are encouraging them to come forward, by calling their local police, or the VPD at 604-717-0503.