Police investigating after senior defrauded $250,000

Lethbridge Police are investigating a $250,000 fraud after scammers targeted a local senior citizen.

On January 14, 2019 the son of an 81-year-old woman reported his mother had been the victim of telemarketing scams and had been sending significant payments almost weekly since March 2018. Investigation determined that the senior initially received a letter purporting to be from the Bank of America and indicating that she had won a U.S. sweepstakes. Believing the letter was authentic, she made contact and was told in order to claim the winnings she had to pay state and other taxes and insure the money. Over the next 10 months the victim dealt with numerous scammers via phone who continued to convince her that she needed to make payments and provide her personal and banking information in order to ultimately claim the prize. The woman received hundreds of phone calls from the sweepstakes scammers and in mid-January callers began to indicate they were from the Canada Revenue Agency and Canadian taxes were now owed. In total, approximately $250,000 was provided to the scammers, mostly by way of bank drafts.

The investigation is ongoing.

“These types of scams are unfortunately very common and the criminals behind them can be very convincing,” said A/Sgt. Paolo Magliocco, with the Economic Crimes Unit.

Prize scams typically involve criminals contacting people and telling them they’ve won a large amount of money in a lottery or sweepstakes. They claim to represent legitimate organizations or established names like Publishers Clearing House in order to gain trust and appear credible. Victims are told they must pay a fee or send funds to cover taxes or other costs in order to claim the prize but despite making the payments no prize is ever received. According to the Better Business Bureau, over the past three years nearly 500,000 people in Canada and the U.S. have reported being the victim of a sweepstakes, lottery or prize scam. In 2017, losses from this type of fraud totaled $117 million, but the actual number of victims and losses is believed to be much higher as many victims are too embarrassed to report it

“It’s critical for people – of all ages – to be vigilant and understand that if something sounds too good to be true, it is,” said Magliocco.

As tax season ramps up, police believe calls and messages from scammers claiming to be from the Canada Revenue Agency will increase as they have in previous years.

CRA scams are committed by phone, email or text message and in all cases the caller or sender pretends to be an agent with the CRA in an attempt to gather personal information or intimidate victims into providing financial payment. Over the phone scammers tell their potential victims they will be arrested immediately if they do not pay, there has been a lawsuit filed against them, warrants have or will be issued or the person will be deported. In emails and text messages, the pitch often involves providing a link for the person to click on to retrieve a refund or to address account discrepancies.

While the CRA does contact people by phone and email – but never by text – they will not threaten anyone with immediate arrest, use abusive language or send the police. They will never request payment by e-transfer, online currency such as bitcoin, pre-paid credit cards or pre-paid gift cards and they will not request personal information related to your passport, driver’s license, health care card, etc. If you are suspicious about any unsolicited communication claiming to come from the CRA, hang up and do not respond. Contact the CRA directly to inquire about your account.

For comprehensive information about new and trending scams visit the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre website: http://www.antifraudcentre-centreantifraude.ca/

Media inquiries may be directed to:

A/Sgt. Paolo Magliocco
Economic Crimes Unit
Lethbridge Police Service