A North Saanich senior in his 80s lost $88,000 after thieves gained access to his computer and could have lost around $130,000 if his bank had not helped recover some of the stolen funds.
“We are talking about substantial fraud here,” said Staff-Sgt. Wayne Conley of the Sidney/North Saanich RCMP detachment. “These are not scams of a few hundred dollars. These are major life-disrupting cases.”
The case still under active investigation dates back to November 2020 when a pop-up appeared on the computer screen of the victim, alerting him to an apparent but fake security breach and a phone number for would-be assistance.
“When the pop up happened, the victim called the number and that then resulted in the victim approving remote access to the computer, because they were going to fix it for him for a fee of $3,000,” said Conley, who described the case as a ransom-ware attack. “Once the remote access was granted to the victim’s online banking, there was some transferring of funds between accounts (resulting) in the theft.”
Perhaps worse, the victim became an active, albeit unknowing, participant in the crime. Const. Vanessa Fields said the bank refused to complete certain transactions and insisted on seeing the victim in person.
“The victim was told a script to follow with the manager of the bank to get around that mechanism,” she said. “That how sophisticated this is. These people have learned through trial and error how to circumvent these systems. It’s actually really scary.”
Fields said the bank was later able to recover some of the transferred funds.
Conley said these kinds of frauds are not infrequent, appearing in different varieties and the detachment receives calls about attempted frauds daily, with two to three cases per month reporting losses.
“It’s happening every day, but most of the time people are savvy enough to know something is wrong,” said Fields.
The fraud trend is pointing up, especially with COVID-19, said Fields.
“People are at home, entertaining themselves on their devices more. So it’s target-rich environment right now. Basically, it’s a numbers game. They cast many, many lures and they are going to get some bites.”
Another recent fraud case involved a Sidney senior who lost around $7,000 after being contacted by a man posing as a grandson in urgent need of money. It points to a common element: an urgent appeal for action designed to trick people into making rash decisions, often exploiting feelings of shame but also a sense of right and wrong, said Fields, adding fraudsters can be very convincing.
Individuals, however, should not succumb to pressure and not to act before checking with others or police, said Conley, directing residents to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre for additional resources.
The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre received 101,483 fraud reports involving nearly $160 million in reported losses in 2020.
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