Scams and identity theft on the Sunshine Coast are as numerous as they are creative.
In late May, a Coast resident responded to a Craigslist ad for a rental property. He sent first and last month’s rent by Money Gram to Air B&B Global, a fake company. He never received the keys to the property, and according to the police incident report, he won’t likely get his money back, either.
The notorious Canada Revenue Agency scam is also occurring on the Coast and proving a vexing problem for local RCMP officers, who receive several complaints about the scam each week. In April a man was told over the phone that he owed back taxes, which he had to pay off with a pre-paid iTunes gift card, which he did, in addition to providing his social insurance number. And if it weren’t for a cashier who questioned a woman’s decision to purchase a large number of iTunes gift cards, the scammers would have clinched another victim.
It’s an ongoing problem that Sgt. Mike Hacker of the Sunshine Coast RCMP raised at the most recent Sunshine Coast Regional District policing committee meeting, listing examples that prove fraud can happen over the phone, online and in person.
Hacker said the detachment is currently investigating a file in which a suspect stole identity from an unlocked vehicle and attempted to get insurance based off a fake B.C. driver’s licence for a car they had purchased on the Lower Mainland.
He also said the older demographic on the Sunshine Coast means more people are susceptible here than in other communities. “Does that mean the elderly population are exposed and targeted more? I would suggest so,” he said. “Lots of seniors don’t report it because they are embarrassed.”
Hacker said education is a critical preventive measure, and plans are in the works to provide presentations this fall to educate seniors.
Courses have been offered through ElderCollege over the past few years to address the problem, which Thomas Kern, board chair, said is exacerbated because of stigma.
“You don’t want to come forward and be publicly known as a fool and that’s a real problem,” said Kern. He said that’s why ElderCollege continually offers the course, “Don’t Fall for Fraud,” which covers trends in fraud schemes as well as tools potential victims can use and evidence they should gather to assist with investigations. The next course will be held in November and will be taught by Hacker.
Gill Smith, activities and rental coordinator at the Sechelt Seniors Activities Centre, said she is working on getting more information about scams into the centre’s monthly newsletter. “I haven’t heard of anyone I know talking about it at the centre. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. It’s a super vulnerable population. Some are very savvy and some are not,” Smith told Coast Reporter.
According to an official from the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC), which tracks fraud complaints, “we assume that less than five per cent of mass marketing fraud occurrences are reported to us.” In 2017, 29 people on the Sunshine Coast reported phone and Internet scams, totalling $35,000 in losses, according to data from CAFC. In B.C., $7.7 million was lost in 2017.
And it’s not just seniors dealing with the problem. Hacker said his personal cell phone received up to a dozen calls in a two-week period. “I’ve even had them call me at a work number at my desk,” he said, adding that he knows at least three other RCMP employees who have been called at their workplace. “Of course it’s entertaining,” he said. “I think going forward, certainly educational pieces in terms of fraud are probably the most effective. The biggest issue for enforcement is tracking it back to source.”
Police have difficulty making arrests because the source tends to be offshore, said Hacker. “It’s not that we can’t do anything about that, but other than gaining intelligence, you’re really not having any enforcement value.”
Hacker recommends searching numbers online to see if they can be traced back to an original source, and disregarding any emails or phone calls purporting to be from official government organizations if the callers or emails are making urgent demands. “They will never contact you that way,” said Hacker.
And the reverse is also true, he added – calls that claim to be offering prizes are likely false. “I know the axiom has almost become a cliché, but if we can get one message out there to the population: if it sounds too good to be true, then it is.”