The scam isn’t an original one, but a Chilliwack woman lost $44,000 to it and she wants to warn other seniors.
“I’m the smartest person I know,” Bonnie Ball said with a laugh after describing what happened. “At least I thought I was.”
Ball got a call on July 14 from someone who said he was Constable Matheson with the Vancouver police. The man said he had arrested Ball’s grandson, Tanner Ellis.
“He said he was in a car as a passenger and the car contained some drugs, cocaine,” Bonnie said. “So they arrested him and said ‘I know your son is not involved but we still have to hold him until we investigate.’”
Then the man supposedly put her grandson on the phone and Bonnie really thought it was Tanner’s voice.
That was enough to convince her to help, and follow the scammer’s instructions. She went to her credit union, withdrew $15,000 and mailed it to an address in Brampton, Ontario.
She now knows how “crazy” this all sounds, as she explains it, but the fraudster was very convincing posing as a police officer who told her there was a gag order and she had to follow the instructions to help Tanner and not tell anyone about it.
Two days later, he called back and said they needed another $29,000.
“And then Tanner gets on the phone again,” she said. “‘The lawyer said $15,000 wasn’t enough, they are going to hopefully put me on probation and as long as I do my community service, you’ll get the money by the end of the month’”
Fraud is no joke. In less than a year (from March 6, 2020 to February 28, 2021), the CAFC received just under 14,000 fraud reports with links to #COVID-19 affecting just under 12,000 victims with losses over $7.2 million. #FPM2021 #kNOwfraud #showmetheFRAUD #BeScamSmart pic.twitter.com/iujX5F9vHX
— Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (@canantifraud) April 1, 2021
So she did it, and of course, it wasn’t the police nor was it Tanner on the phone at all.
“It’s absolutely disgusting that these scammers can do this to seniors, making them think their grandchildren are in trouble to get money out of them,” Tanner told The Progress. “How do they sleep at night? Knowing my grandma lost this amount of money to these sick people makes me so angry.”
When the third call came asking for $10,000 more because the fake police officer claimed they found a gun: “I said, ‘Are you crazy?’ I still believed him but I was pissed off. I said ‘No, I cannot do that.’”
Then she phoned a neighbour and she started to realized she was the victim of what is sometimes called “catfishing”. She went to the Chilliwack RCMP, who started a file but basically told her she should just no longer answer her phone.
Bonnie wanted the police to trap the fraudsters by letting her play along and pretend to send more money but they wouldn’t do it. She said her daughter investigated and found out the address was an empty duplex in a suburban neighbourhood near Toronto. The package of money was delivered by UPS to the address and, presumably, the fraudster just picked it up off the front steps.
“We could have done it,” she said. “We could have reverse catfished him.”
Chilliwack RCMP spokesperson Sgt. Krista Vrolyk confirmed the “very unfortunate situation” that was reported to police.
“We just want to remind the public that the police never solicit money by phone,” Vrolyk said. “Never use information from a caller or in an email. When in doubt, get the name and use other means to confirm the legitimacy. When in doubt, call your local police agency if it doesn’t sound legitimate.”
Bonnie doesn’t understand how the fraudsters got the information about her and her grandson as she isn’t on social media of any kind. Of course, most people are, including her relatives, so there are ways information can be gleaned by someone looking to scam vulnerable people.
“Unfortunately these guys are smart,” Tanner said. “I would warn people to make their social media profiles more private. They can gain so much information with just a couple clicks, I know I will be making my profiles completely private.”
He said a scammer tried to trick his other grandmother as well but used a cousin’s name and when asked what he calls his grandmother, the fraudster got it wrong so she hung up on him.
“It’s crazy how they were able to figure out the relation between me and grandma Bonnie, they definitely did a lot of digging to figure it out.”
As for Bonnie, she knows she made a mistake but she wants the police to do more to investigate the case. And while she is ashamed about it, she wanted to go public to warn others so they don’t become victims.
“I know I’m never going to get my money back.”
Sgt. Vrolyk reiterated that no one should ever respond to requests over the phone or email to send money or anything.
For anyone who has been the victim of a fraud, contact the Canadian Anti Fraud Centre at 1-888-495-8501 or go online at www.antifraudcentre-centreantifraude.ca/scams-fraudes/victim-victime-eng.htm.
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