Scammers steal thousands from Cranbrook residents

The Grandson Scam, fake classifieds ads, and the Nigerian email scam have each had devastating effects on local people recently

A series of scams have hurt Cranbrook recently, and RCMP are warning residents to be wary.

“It is very easy to get taken,” said Cst. Louis Saule, the Cranbrook detachment’s internet investigator. “If it’s too good to be true, be wary.”

The most common scam to affect Cranbrook residents lately has been dubbed “The Grandson Scam”.

“An older person will receive a phone call at home saying, it’s your grandson, I’m in trouble – I’m in jail, I’ve been in a car accident, I’ve been stopped for impaired driving. I don’t want you to tell my parents but I need money for bail,” explained Cst. Saule.

Sometimes the caller will use the name of the grandchild; sometimes not.

“The information can be fairly easily obtained on Facebook. There are lots of ways for information to be leaked,” said Cst. Saule.

The caller will tell the person being scammed that they will receive another call from their lawyer. In the second phone call, the caller will ask the victim to transfer money for bail via Western Union or Moneygram in the lawyer’s name. Once the victim has done this, the scammer calls back for the reference number, then create a fake drivers license and picks up the money.

“Once the money is picked up, there is nothing the police can do. And they have produced a fake ID so there is no way to identify them,” said Cst. Saule.

This particular scam has hit at least six people in Cranbrook in the past six months for amounts ranging from $1,000 to $8,000.

Cst. Saule said that if you receive a call like this and you think it may genuinely be a relative in trouble, phone them back on the number you have for them. Ask personal questions that only the real person would know.

Scams are often perpetrated using advertising listings websites such as Craigslist. A Cranbrook student lost over $1,000 recently when she was looking for a home to rent in another community. Via email, she answered an ad on Craigslist for a house for rent. The person offering the home said they lived a long way from where the house was, and before they made the trip they wanted an indication that the student was serious about the home. They asked the student to transfer a damage deposit and first and last month’s rent via Western Union, and said they wouldn’t claim the money until she decided she wanted the home. She transferred $1,500 and never heard from them again.

“That’s a lot of money, especially if you are working hard as a student in summer. That girl was devastated,” said Cst. Saule.

“If you are selling something, make sure they show up, and take good old-fashioned Canada money. Unless you know the person, a cheque may not be worth anything.”

But by far the biggest victim in the past two years was a Cranbrook resident who lost $100,000 to the Nigerian email scam. They received an email saying that a distant relative had died in Africa, leaving them $67 million. It provided the name and address of a legal firm in the UK. The victim checked online and confirmed that the firm existed. At first, they transferred a few thousand dollars for “estate taxes”.

From there, they just got in deeper. They made trips to meet people associated with the deal, they provided money for various other convincing reasons the scammers provided.

“Over a period of months they were trying to get the money released,” said Cst. Saule. “By the end they were $100,000 in the hole after six months.”

It might seem hard to understand how that could happen, Cst. Saule said, but it’s simple.

“It’s a normal thing: you look at something and wonder if it’s fake or real. You check into it and see enough to convince you it’s real. So you become invested, put money into it, and eventually you think, if I walk away, I’m out $50,000. You start justifying it to yourself,” said Cst. Saule.

“Try to make sure it is genuine. Do you have a relative who would have left you this amount of money? Someone in your family would know.

“They could create a fake website and even a fake office.

“Check the Better Business Bureau in that town, check with city hall, or the law society. If it’s a real lawyer, phone them.”

In each of these cases, the RCMP can’t get the money back.

“There’s nothing we can do in any of these events. That’s the problem. Once the money is picked up, there is nothing the police can do,” said Cst. Saule, since the communication is done using fake email addresses, throwaway phones and false identification. “Prevention is the big thing.”

There are tons and tons of scams out there, he went on, some that seem to be for real.

“People have gone to the bank to get a loan so they could partake in the scam, thinking that in the end they will have the money to pay it back.

“You can say it’s a common sense thing. Well, common sense is something that’s learned. It may seem common sense to you. But if it’s new to you, you don’t necessarily think negative things right away,” said Cst. Saule.

“People are honest and they think the people they deal with are honest too.”

To research common scams, visit the RCMP’s fraud website, www.rcmp-grc.gc.ca/scams-fraudes/index-eng.htm, or the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre at www.antifraudcentre.ca.