(ROBERT SULLIVAN/AFP/Getty Images)Article
Calgary police are warning Calgarians about a new twist on an old scam.
On Friday, a Calgary woman got a message from a man calling himself Ryan Smith, claiming to be from the Canada Revenue Agency.
When she called back, the woman was shocked when Smith told her she owed nearly $10,000 in back taxes. The woman said she was transferred back and forth between a number of people, claiming she would be arrested if she didn’t pay the debt immediately.
In reality, the call from Smith was the first step in a gift card scam.
The latest victim is an elderly woman, whose name has been withheld, suffering from a number of health issues, including a traumatic brain injury. When she first got the call from Smith, the victim said she was in a panic because of her condition. But looking back now, she said it was obvious the call was part of a scam.
“Being a person like me, it took me way over the top and I feel so stupid,” the woman said. “And I’m not like that, I’m not a stupid person.”
The victim said the men on the other end of the phone told her to visit a number of grocery stores and purchase iTunes gift cards to pay her debts. The woman said she was instructed to “not tell anyone” at the stores what she was doing and to keep the alleged scammers on a cellphone while she bought the cards.
In total, the woman gave scammers the codes for $9,900 worth of iTunes cards.
Police said victims are told to purchase gift cards and give the activation codes to scammers. The codes for the cards are then sold on the black market.
Calgary police confirmed that between June 1 and July 21 victims lost over $132,000 in scams using the iTunes gift card method.
Police have tips for Calgarians to protect their pocketbooks from scammers:
Government agencies never ask for payment via gift cards or prepaid credit cards;
If your workplace sells gift cards, be on the lookout for potential victims and inform them about this scam. Victims may be on the phone and purchasing a large amount of gift cards;
If you are contacted and told you owe money, look up the numbers online and do not use the numbers provided to you by the potential scammer;
Do not feel pressure to provide any money until you’ve determined if the debt is real. Talk to trusted friends and family because legitimate requests will not be that urgent;
If you have lost money, call police at 403-266-1234. If you received a phone call or email that you believe to be a scam, report it online at www.calgarypolice.ca
As for the recent victim, she hopes her story will help prevent other people with disabilities from falling for similar schemes.
“I have a mental condition and I’m screwed in my head and now I’m screwed in my bank account, too,” she said. “I’ve worked hard all of my life, and for somebody to do that to you is devastating.”
PROTECT YOURSELF: FIVE SCAMS MOST OFTEN SEEN IN CALGARY
The saying “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is” is usually met with eye rolls— but clearly it’s a message still lost on the thousands of Canadians who are scammed each year.
In Calgary, fraudsters have found their own ways to collect ill-gotten bounty.
Postmedia’s Michael Lumsden spoke with Staff Sgt. Jeff Bell of the Calgary Police Service’s economic crimes unit to get a sense of the most popular frauds.
1. Canada Revenue Agency scam: This scam usually involves someone posing as a representative from the Canada Revenue Agency requesting personal or financial information. It isn’t limited to just tax time and people who aren’t familiar with how the Canada Revenue Agency works tend to get preyed on the most. Bell says most Canadians simply “do not want to fight the government and will just go along with it.” The Government of Canada has a website dedicated to helping identify and stop these specific scams.
2.) Lottery/inheritance: A large sum of money is promised to you after someone you know — ostensibly in a faraway country — has died. Usually the most easily recognizable and deflected scam.
3.) Door-to-door/utility scams: Typically involves someone knocking on your door telling you a new furnace is required for your safety. Many over-the-phone utility scams rely on a quick turnaround ultimatum: the victim is told they have 20 minutes or less to pay up a large sum of money on a long-running, delinquent bill or they will lose their power/water/cable.
4.) Romance scams: The classic long con. The scammer preys on an emotional aspect of someone’s life, whether it is loneliness for love or friendship. “They build quite a bit more trust with the mark. Get more into personal issues that have sentimental value, and use that to get money for various reasons,” Bell said.
5.) Software scams: The Internet is a dangerous place and even when it looks like help is on the way, it could be harmful for your pocketbook. Pop-up scam windows with flashing warnings about your computer being infected should be treated with caution. Be wary of any messages prompting you to call a phone number to fix your computer — scammers at the other end of the line could be seeking access to your computer and, with it, access to all of your personal information.
Bell says the underlying message from police when it comes to scams is simple: they have to be reported.
“We recognize a sense of embarrassment with being scammed. Even though it’s embarrassing, we can’t help unless we know what’s going on.”