An elderly widow in the Cowichan Valley lost $5,000 through a telephone and computer scam, and could have lost a lot more if her daughter hadn’t intervened.
The senior’s daughter Wendy said that at 8:30 a.m. on Dec. 7, the computer her mother, who we will call “Susan” to protect her identity, uses started making noise and a huge warning appeared on the screen stating that her security had been compromised.
The message instructed Susan to call Microsoft for help, and when she called the number that was given, a man informed her that her security had been breached and he could help.
He had her phone his supervisor, who he said was a level-three fraud investigator.
Susan was told the “fraud investigator” would help her through her predicament and had her log into her online banking.
Once logged in, Susan was told that her account showed large payments from her bank account and VISA about to be made to a porn hub site.
“I believe they gained access to her account after calling her through remote access and showed her fake copies of her account,” Wendy said.
“They then convinced her that she had to go out and buy gift cards with her VISA and debit card to take the money out of her account before the fraudster did. They convinced her that after she bought the gift cards and provided them with the card information off the gift cards, they would transfer the money from the gift cards back into her account.”
Wendy said the scammers had also convinced Susan that, to protect her security, she could not tell anyone what was happening until they had finished the transaction.
She said they had instructed Susan that when she purchased the gift cards, she had to tell the store that the cards are Christmas presents for family.
The scammers instructed her to buy gift cards for Google Play and for Best Buy in lots of $1,000 each.
“Even at this amount, they seemed to know that the stores would ask questions,” Wendy said.
“One of the stores required a manager override to purchase $1,000 in gift cards, but when asked, [Susan] said they were for family just as she had been told to. The manager even did the override two times in a row. I wish these stores would ask elderly distressed shoppers if they had been asked to do this by someone over the phone, or provided a warning for them to call RCMP or their bank. Even at Christmas, I think buying $2,000 worth of the same kind of gift card is a bit strange.”
Wendy said her mom’s financial transactions continued for much of the day.
She said Susan picked up her grandchildren after school and took them with her on one of her runs to buy gift cards.
“That was my first warning,” Wendy said.
“When I got home, my son told me how he had gone to the store with his grandmother to buy gift cards because her bank had been hacked. I tried calling her for an hour, but her line was busy because these people were still convincing her to spend more money. When I finally got hold of her, she was asking me for a ride to the store. Her saving grace was she does not like to drive in the dark.”
Wendy said her mother was adamant that she could not tell her, or anyone, about what was happening in order to protect her security until the scammers had dealt with the situation, but she finally got Susan to tell her what was happening.
“It took me until 7 p.m. for her to finally be willing to speak to me,” Wendy said.
“They had been bombarding her all day and she was exhausted. We then spent hours calling the bank, credit card companies and the RCMP. I am sharing this story because when we talked to the RCMP, they told us that this has happened repeatedly and recently within the Cowichan Valley. I want to help protect other vulnerable people.”
Wendy said the RCMP advised them that, with this scam, her mother had likely lost all of the money she used to purchase the gift cards.
“By making you go out to actually buy the items means you have no way to get the money back,” she said.
“Most people are devastated and embarrassed when this happens, so they don’t tell people. By being silent, it only helps the scammers by hiding what is happening. I also want to ask people who work in retail to look out for your customers. If you see an elderly distressed person, and they are purchasing questionable stuff, please reach out and talk to them. Ask if someone on the phone told them to do this. Tell them if they have any questions to call their bank or RCMP. We must all help look out for the more vulnerable members of society.”