Fraudsters steal $18,000 from Coxheath man, Cape Breton community

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Watching her husband frantically try to get iTunes cards to pay off the fraudsters holding his computer hostage was hard for Peggy Mercer to watch.

“He was almost obsessive. He said, ‘I have to get my computer back. I have to,’” she said.

“I agree he is partly to blame but I feel like the bank should have made a phone call about the activity on that account. If I had gotten the phone call I would have frozen it.”

Mercer’s husband doesn’t want his name in the paper but he has agreed to let his wife tell his story, in hopes that others don’t fall victim to the scam.

The fraudsters first called him a few months before the theft, claiming to be from Microsoft. They said they saw problems on his computer and because there were minor issues he believed them. He paid them $500 and gave the scammers remote access to his computer.

On Feb. 16 they called back saying they had made a mistake and put money in his account they needed back. Mercer’s husband saw an extra $4,800 there but didn’t realize they took this from his line of credit.

From Feb. 16 to Feb. 18 the fraudsters were able to trick Mercer’s husband out of $18,000, all of it from his line of credit. Each time they asked him to buy iTunes cards to return it.

The accounts were with RBC, Mercer’s husband’s bank for 52 years. The bank launched an investigation but found him at fault because of the Electronic Access Agreement. The Mercers have to pay the $18,000 back with interest, roughly $80 a month.

This added bill is not easy for the couple, who are now in their 70s and living on a fixed income.

“There’s nothing left over (at the end of the month),” Mercer said, noting they wouldn’t be able to take a trip if they wanted to.

Mercer did call Cape Breton Regional Police Service (CBRPS) on Feb. 18 to report the fraud, while her husband was out buying iTunes cards. Police confirm they responded.

Mercer said while the responding officer was there, the fraudster called back and the officer told him to leave the couple alone.

Trish Vardy, a spokesperson for RBC, said the company takes cases like these seriously and does thorough investigations before deciding on reimbursement.

“We realize that any time a client is impacted by fraud or scams, it can be a difficult and stressful situation for them,” she said via an email statement.

“We review each instance of potential fraud or unauthorized transactions on a case-by-case basis, reviewing all relevant facts and information before making a decision.”

She recommends people take “extra precautions” when dealing with unsolicited calls or emails and to “verify the reasons for the transaction request.”

Sgt. Mike Murphy has spent 12 of his 32 years with CBRPS working with the Internet Crime Exploitation unit (ICE), which covers many aspects of cybercrime and computer forensics.

While cybercrime against businesses in Cape Breton, like what happened to Triple B Recycling recently, is not common, he said identity theft and scams like the one the Mercer’s dealt with is on the rise.

“Identity theft has been around since there was such thing as an identity,” he said.

“I think it would be safe to say there’s been a steady increase year to year in these type of frauds … As our reliance on this type of technology increases, so will the crime in this form.”

Because many of these fraudsters aren’t from Canada, Murphy said it is difficult to investigate because of different laws in other countries.

“More often or not these fraudsters are located in countries that we don’t have legal assistance treaties in place,” he said.

Often these fraudsters ask for payment in pre-paid cards because they are difficult to track.

However, Murphy encourages people to report these crimes so police can track trends and inform the public when a new one is surfacing.

“It’s the people who can’t afford to fall victim to this type of crime who are the ones who usually do,” he said.

Mercer said they still get calls from fraudsters, almost weekly, even though they have blocked numbers of the people who originally scammed them.

“I lose it every time I hear them. I can pretty well tell who they are by the numbers coming in,” she said.

“I just don’t trust the computer. I think too much goes on with the computer that you don’t know about, like what they can do with the computer.”

Read the original story at the Cape Breton Post.

This story was summarized by Canadian Fraud News Inc.