Info For Seniors: Protect yourself from money-transfer scams

Members of the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) Anti-Rackets Branch, the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC) and Ontario’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO) say money transfer scams extort money and personal information from unwitting victims.

Money-transfer and cheque-fraud scams are successful for fraudsters because they constantly find ways to put a new spin on an old scam. Victims sometimes educate themselves on a particular type of money transfer or cheque fraud scam only to find out a new version of scam has been created.

Typically, individuals use a phone or computer to communicate with you before they offer a financial transaction. Often this serves a dual purpose of providing criminals with access to your banking information and then for you to legitimately send them money. This category of scams may also include offers such as job proposals, fake prizes and foreign money exchanges. According to the CAFC, these types of scams defrauded victims across Canada of approximately $25 million in 2018.

Investigators find two scenarios are most commonly used. In one version, someone responds to a resume that victims have submitted to a job posting site. Suspects will respond to the resume which generally contains personal information by trying to convince you that your qualifications are “exactly what we are looking for.” Conversations lead to a job offer but there will be some form of financial transaction that needs to take place —such as a prepayment for “professional services.” The suspects may also send you money for training or further education, but the amount of money is more than the agreed upon amount. The scammers request the “extra funds” be sent back to them which, of course, is real money. The other amount that was previously-deposited is defaulted by the banking institution. In the end, the money that victims sent is gone.

According to the SFO, one particular victim had received a cheque for approximately $275,000. However, the instructions that accompanied the cheque stated that a five per cent commission be paid, five percent more for taxes and a further $135,000 be sent back to the so-called employer. Recognized their scam worked, the suspects sent another cheque for more than $400,000 when the bank advised that the cheques were fraudulent. Unfortunately, when all was said and done, the victim lost approximately $200,000.

In another common scenario, scammers will respond to an advertisement that has been placed on a buy and sell site. They generally offer you the asking price or more for the item without physically seeing it. The individual will then send a money transfer and request the item to be sent to them. In many cases, the amount will exceed the amount of the asking price. The fraudsters will request to deposit the money and send the excess back to them. After several days, the bank will inform you that the money that was deposited was defaulted and you were scammed of the money you transferred.

When dealing with online buy-and-sell sites, consider dealing face-to-face with the prospective buyer, pay with cash, and try to deal locally — perhaps at a ‘safe trade zone’ if available. If the vendor pushes you to electronically transfer money, assume it is a scam.

If you or someone you know suspect they’ve been a victim of a money-transfer scam, contact your local police service by calling 613-476-2151. You can also file a complaint with the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre at 1-888-495-8501.

– Debbie MacDonald Moynes