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'You always think I'll never get caught': Crofton senior tells how she was conned

Marlaine Williams of Crofton was scammed out of $8,550 by a fraudster who told her there had been a dozen attempts to get money from her bank account
A Crofton senior contacted by a scammer said he gave her a case number, which made her think the call was legitimate. NICK GUNDERSON/PHOTODISC/GETTY IMAGES

Crofton senior Marlaine ­Williams considers herself pretty aware when it comes to money matters, having spent many years working in the financial field.

But the 72-year-old still got scammed out of $8,550 by a fast-talking fraudster who called Feb. 8 to say there had been a dozen attempts to get money from her bank account.

“He said one was a foreign-money exchange and one was a global-money transfer,” she said.

The man then gave Williams a case number.

“Basically I think that’s what convinced me he was OK,” she said. “By the time we were finished, I ended up giving him a one-time verification code.”

That allowed him to access her account and take the money, Williams said.

“It was the perfect storm,” she said. “You always think I’ll never get caught, I’ll hang up.”

She began to clue into her mistake after talking about the phone call with friends, and discovered the next day that the money had been taken.

Williams said she is telling her story “to let other seniors know how easy it is to have this happen.”

Losing the money put her and husband Danny in overdraft, but Williams said they are fortunate that they can absorb the loss with a little “belt tightening.”

Others aren’t so lucky, she said.

Williams reported the fraud to the police but there was ­nothing they could do at that point.

She stressed to others that they should hang up if a caller seems to be at all suspicious, or if they are unsure why certain questions are being asked.

After that, they should call the phone number on the ­relevant credit card to find out if they were dealing with a ­legitimate situation, Williams said.

On Friday, two people from Quebec were arrested at Vancouver International Airport in connection with three cases in Saanich involving the “grandparent scam” — where a caller claims to be a grandchild or other relative needing funds — that cost victims a combined total of over $27,000.

Mark Lokanan, an ­associate professor of data science and accounting at Royal Roads ­University who has studied fraud, said scammers tend to be very charismatic and use that to try to gain a potential victim’s trust.

He said he uses artificial intelligence to study their ­activity. “Basically what they’re ­trying to do is exploit the natural ­tendency of the individual, the psychological quality, to trust others,” he said. “We all tend to comply with requests if they’re coming from somebody with authority.”

In many cases, scammers don’t ask for money right away, but seek to build a rapport over a few calls — or after a few weeks, as in a romance scam, Lokanan said.

He said they use emotional triggers like fear, a desire for love, or a sense of urgency.

Many scammers also go on social media to gather personal details about individuals before approaching them, Lokanan said. “They’re not going to just ­contact you blindly, most of them. They try to build up a ­pretext to establish credibility.”

With the grandparent scam, they might try to find the ­preferred nickname for a grandparent, whether it be grandpa or papa or something else.

TD Bank senior vice-president Sophia Leung said that in some cases, fraud victims are hesitant to tell anyone about it because they’re embarrassed.

But if people don’t report what happened, “then we cannot help, and we cannot understand what might have happened,” she said.

A recent TD survey found that 50 per cent of British Columbians would be too embarrassed to tell someone if they were duped by a scam — nearly double the national average.

The survey also found that close to one in four B.C. residents has been a victim of financial fraud.

Saanich police point to three kinds of fraudster approaches on their website:

• The hope of a benefit: “You’ve won a prize!” “This is a guaranteed investment!” “I love you!”

• Fear: “You owe taxes.” “You will be arrested.” “Your loved one is in trouble.”

• Your natural willingness to help: “Help us catch these crooked bank employees.” “Be our secret shopper.”

All are designed to “manipulate your emotions, prevent you from thinking rationally, and make you take actions you normally would not,” police say.

Police and the Saanich parks department are presenting the latest in their series of public sessions on avoiding fraud from 9:30-11 a.m. on March 28 at Cedar Hill Recreation Centre.

Sign up by calling 250-475-7121.

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