West Vancouver police are warning the public after international fraudsters swindled a senior out of more than $800,000 – pretty much their entire life savings.
Const. Jeff Palmer, spokesman for the West Vancouver Police Department, said it’s the largest individual fraud he’s seen in his time with the force.
“Bluntly put, this is just devastating – personally and financially for the victim,” he said. “Our victim services unit are working closely with the family. Fortunately, there is a supportive family around this victim and so it’s not as bad as it could be but we are certainly talking about … an amount of money that’s really very shocking and represents a really big majority of this person’s current savings.”
Palmer said the victim began receiving phone calls earlier this year from someone claiming to be a staffer with their bank, reporting that there had been unauthorized use of their personal credit card. The victim was directed to contact what they were told was the bank’s fraud investigation department, which later put them in touch with someone purporting to be the deputy chief of the Vancouver Police Department.
As part of the ruse, the victim was told their local bank staff may be in on the credit card fraud and so they were directed to transfer all their money into another account in a foreign country for “safekeeping” while the investigation continued. The suspects told the victim to tell their banker the money was destined for a family member so as to not raise suspicion.
A few days had passed between the time the transfer was made and when the victim realized they’d been conned and called police. The victim’s bank tried to reverse the wire transfer but it was too late.
“If they aren’t discovered and acted on very quickly, it’s difficult if not impossible. There is next to no hope for recovery,” Palmer said.
Investigators won’t say which country the money was sent to.
West Vancouver police have been in contact with Toronto Police Services who have opened investigations into frauds using a similar M.O. In those cases, five victims were taken for more than $5.1 million. Toronto police said there were hundreds of similar fraud attempts noted in 2018.
The “bank inspector fraud” has been in use for decades but the methods used have become more sophisticated in the internet age, Palmer said.
“Some of the simple things are still true. No bank or financial institution is ever going to say you should transfer your money to a different institution for safekeeping during a fraud investigation. It’s simply not going to happen,” he said. “People have to learn to recognize those flags. Hang up the phone. Go to a different phone. Come to the police department. Speak to someone else in person. Go to your bank in person before you expose yourself to the risk of this kind of a loss.”