West Van senior speaks out after being targeted in $185K scam

This story has been amended since first posting.

A West Vancouver senior is speaking out as a warning to others after being scammed out of $185,000 by international fraudsters – then getting it back thanks to the quick work of police.

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The 70-year-old West Vancouver woman said she’d never considered herself particularly vulnerable to fraudsters. But when lured into a sophisticated scam, she fell for it.

“It was quite harrowing and I was incredibly lucky,” she said.

In early January the woman - who the North Shore News has agreed to identify only by her first name, Diana – said she got a call from a man claiming to be from Tiffany’s jewelry store, where she was told a person purporting to be her nephew was trying to make a purchase with what he said was her bank card. The person on the phone said the store would contact the police and advised her to call her bank immediately.

She did so – hanging up and dialling the number on the back of her debit card and getting through to a person at the bank – or so she thought.

(Diana says now her best guess is that while she thought she had disconnected, the scammers remained on the phone line and that they simply pretended to be the bank she called.)

The person on the phone took details from her, including an estimate of how much money might be at risk in her account.

As it happened, there was a lot of money in it, said Diana, because her daughter had recently repaid her a loan for a mortgage.

She was then put through to a “bank fraud officer” who told her the bank was investigating a possible employee-involved fraud that they were hoping to keep quiet until the person was identified.

From there, the fraud escalated, with Diana getting calls from “police detectives” warning her bank accounts were at risk.

“The whole thing was made to sound very authentic,” she said.

Finally she was told to go to her bank and wire money to a special address for safekeeping until the “fraud investigation” wrapped up.

Only after she made the transfer did doubts surface. Within hours she had called the police.

That quick action made all the difference, said Const. Jeff Palmer, spokesman for the West Vancouver Police Department.

Officers in West Vancouver immediately contacted police and bank authorities in the United Kingdom and were able to freeze the transfer.

Police in Britain are now investigating, said Palmer.

Meanwhile, police in Bedfordshire, England have arrested a suspect connected to an identical scam of a West Vancouver resident, who lost a shocking $800,000 after falling for the same con last year.

In that case, by the time the resident alerted police it was too late to reverse the transfer.

Diana said she now understands how such scams happen.

“I have to give it to them. They were professionals,” she said of the fraudsters.

“I feel incredibly stupid and embarrassed and rather ashamed,” she said, but added, “I feel the only way to stop it is to talk about it.”

Palmer said the bank fraud scam has been around for years. In fact, a near identical attempt to scam a senior in Richmond was reported to police in December.

There’s no indication the two West Vancouver cases are connected or that the victims were specifically targeted, he said.

He said the best advice for anyone receiving such calls is to disconnect immediately and go in person to make inquiries at their bank.

If someone does end up getting scammed, it’s vitally important they contact police immediately, he said – adding quick action is the only hope of recovering funds.

This story has been amended to include more detail about the fraud.

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