There’s a reason 86% of Canadians say they’re tired of having to be on the lookout for possible scams, according to a recent RBC survey. We have other things to do in life than to be constantly wary… But we have no choice.
There was a time when we feared having our wallet stolen by a pickpocket. In 2023, we must know how to detect fraudulent calls, sites and messages. One must closely monitor the Interac transfers in his bank account and the purchases on his credit card statement.
The first problem is that tactics are constantly changing and becoming more refined. As a result, even the smartest are not immune. The second is that the number of frauds is constantly exploding and nothing and no one seems capable of reversing the trend.
We all know a victim. Typically, his story ends with something like, “I went to the police, but nothing came of it…”
In recent months, I have collected testimonies from defrauded people who were stunned to learn that the police would not intervene. A Montrealer offered the police a crook on a silver platter (see below), but they did not want to move to pick him up. A small retailer who had all of his year’s profits stolen from him gave videotapes, an address and a phone number to the police… who did not investigate.
Do fraudsters have free rein or are they being put in serious trouble?
To find out for sure, I met Commander Steve Belzil, who leads the 48-person team specializing in economic crimes at the Service de police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM). First, the basics: how many investigations do his troops conduct, year in, year out? How many arrests do they make? He didn’t know.
How many files end up on the office of the Director of Criminal and Penal Prosecutions (DPCP) for criminal charges to be laid? The SPVM does not know either. Steve Belzil suggested I ask the DPCP… who were unable to extract this information from their database.
The DPCP forwarded my request to the Ministry of Justice which, after three weeks, was still unable to provide a single figure concerning the financial fraud cases heard by the courts in 2022. The number of trials held, confessions of guilt obtained and of those who have been found guilty therefore remains a mystery.
The Laval Police Service (SPL) said it had forwarded 152 files to the DPCP last year.
The data is lacking, but it is clear that the number of lawsuits is very far from the quantity of complaints received. Last year, the SPVM alone counted 9,500, or 26 per day. The SPL claims that 1,437 complaints have been forwarded to it. At the Sûreté du Québec, we are talking about 11,379 reports for fraud of all kinds, including those affecting the vaccine passport.
Faced with such a rain of scams, you have to make choices. Impossible to chase after all the fraudsters.
Steve Belzil explains that his troops favor files affecting “vulnerable people, the elderly and the young”, as well as those related to organized crime.
The sum stolen is not part of the criteria for allocating or not resources to an investigation, he swears. Unless the amount is…zero. “When a citizen is reimbursed [by his bank], we have to know about it. It becomes non-priority for us. These files, we put them aside, “said the representative of the police. In Laval, the police do not even take statements from people who have recovered their money. Because we believe that they are not victims. And the financial institutions, which are the victims, according to this logic, hardly ever file a complaint.
Those who emptied the RESP accounts at Kaleido1 could therefore, theoretically, repeat their little game since the parents concerned have recovered their money.
This reimbursement argument is questionable, since a crime has indeed been committed and fraudsters could reoffend with the stolen personal information, believes Fyscillia Ream, scientific coordinator at the Research Chair in Cybercrime Prevention at the University of Montreal. . “When 50 people report the same fraud, there should be a minimum of investigation to dismantle the network. The police are a public service paid for by our taxes and what affects us right now are online fraud. »
Additionally, “some victims want to sue those responsible. They need to convict someone. This is where the police fail,” says the expert.
Since the SPVM does not know how many fraudsters it manages to punish, how does it measure the effectiveness of its employees and their working methods? “There really isn’t a unit of measurement. It’s hard, in an investigation, to have units of measurement because a case can take a day to settle, four months, six months, a year, ”replied Commander Steve Belzil. But one thing is certain, it is not easy to keep up with the crazy speed at which fraudsters are developing new strategies thanks to technology. The police sometimes feel like they’re riding in a sedan that stops at red lights, while the hustlers sit in Formula 1 cars that run through all the lights.
For victims who report fraud to the police, it is still disconcerting to be told that nothing will be done. That the thugs could therefore start again the next day, or even in the next hour.
The unique story of Philippe is particularly eloquent.
At the end of December, the Montrealer received an email from the Royal Bank notifying him that his credit card limit had been reached. Two hefty transactions were charged to his account. That explains it all! Crooks had bought, on Alfred.vin, a Quebec site for collectors of fine wines, three Romanée-Conti at $ 2,500 each.
After declaring the fraud to his bank, he calls the merchant who sold the grands crus. “Thanks, we were just about to deliver!” “, we teach him. Philippe then obtains the address where the package must be sent. It’s in an office tower on René-Lévesque Boulevard in downtown Montreal. The online store even tells Philippe that she received a text message from the fraudster who wanted to speed up the delivery. The boss therefore knows the telephone number of the fraudster. He even spoke to her.
Philippe offers the merchant to accompany his delivery man, with the police, to pick up the thug who used his credit card. So he goes to neighborhood station 35 to get the police involved. “The police said to me, ‘We don’t deal with those cases anymore. We can’t afford it anymore, ”says the man who was proud to offer the authorities a fraudster “on a silver platter”.
The SPVM would not comment on this specific case, but Steve Belzil did not seem surprised or shocked by this story.
The delivery of the collection bottles therefore did not take place. Thanks to Philippe’s presence of mind, small business Alfred was able to avoid a financial loss of $7,500. And Philippe did not have to pay the bill. Despite everything, this incident left him with a bitter taste. “What shocked me the most, as a citizen, was the reaction of the police. They didn’t even take the complaint. It’s a big fraud, though! »
Unfortunately, not all fraud stories end so well for retailers, as you’ll read on Wednesday.
The Montreal police did not intervene after receiving Isabelle’s statement in February. “I was told that there was a lot of fraud. »
In a very detailed five-page email, the young professional described to me the fraud that deprived her of $167. It’s not the sea to drink, but it could have been $1670 or $16,700, had it not been for his quick reaction. Isabelle wanted a police investigation not to get her money back, but “because the fraudster is surely part of a very well organized network that will continue to defraud many people”.
At dinnertime, Isabelle sees the number 1 888 826-4372 appear on her phone. The man, “who speaks well”, says he works for the security department at Tangerine. He informs her that two suspicious transactions have been detected on his Mastercard, in a Petro-Canada and a Dollarama in Toronto. “I confirm that I did not make these transactions. He tells me that I will receive codes by phone to cancel them. I give him the codes. He informs me that I will receive a new card in about ten days. »
Without knowing it, Isabelle was the victim of the false representative fraud, which is very popular these days.
According to the SPVM, scammers traditionally target the elderly and ask them for the PIN associated with their credit card before going to their home to retrieve it. This time, the alleged employee instead used the code texted by Tangerine to change Isabelle’s PIN and access her online account. In all likelihood, this allowed him to enter his credit card data into Apple Pay and make three purchases totaling $167 at Jean Coutu. All this in 16 minutes.
If Isabelle hadn’t contacted Tangerine as soon as possible, the scammer could have emptied her checking account, her savings account and possibly her TFSA. He had in his possession his name, address, telephone number, credit card number and Tangerine customer number, which suggests a data theft.
But Isabelle will not be compensated: Tangerine holds her responsible for her loss since she provided the fraudster with the codes received by text message. Like Philippe, she is disappointed that the police have not lifted a finger to find the fraudsters who risk making heaps of other victims.
Failing to have been able to convince the police to act, she hopes that her testimony will prevent others from falling into the trap. Since she considers herself a vigilant and on-trend person, her story made her realize that the cliché that no one is safe is indeed true.
Mathieu is not very impressed with the service offered by his bank following five fraudulent Interac transfers that reduced his bank account balance by nearly $2,500 in early March. The money was transferred to Gigadat, a Winnipeg-based online banking solutions company that is racking up bad reviews online.
He wonders how his bank was able to allow five consecutive transfers and why he did not have to give his approval by means of a code received by text message, for example, before the money left his account.
Mathieu also wonders about the blocking of transactions by Interac in his account during the investigation which lasted 56 days. “I confess to being both disappointed and surprised. BMO’s site has a loophole that is stealing $2476 from me and BMO’s help is freezing my operations…”
The impacts were mixed, but the 40-year-old still stopped receiving the amounts transferred to him by Interac without being notified. Isabelle was less fortunate: her account freeze prevented her from receiving her paycheck. In addition, the direct debit of his condominium fees bounced, which resulted in charges. She then spent “a lot of time on the phone” to keep more payments from going through, which would have hurt her credit rating.
“I realize that you have to have money on hand, because the banks do not provide any mechanism to help their customers who are victims of fraud! », is surprised Mathieu.
“The technology is there, but it’s not deployed where it should be,” he said. And the banks lose their responsibilities fairly quickly when it comes to hacking and the transfer of funds. We put the odious on the victim to prove his innocence, whereas if there is a hold-up in the bank, we will not hold the customers responsible for the money that came out of the vault. The responsibility to secure assets is also on the web, in applications and transfers. But today, this is not done, mainly for financial reasons. »
That said, “texting a code is a big no-no,” continued Simon Marchand, as fraudsters “can easily intercept a text message” using a variety of methods that are constantly being refined.
Despite the shortcomings, banks are far from reimbursing losses automatically. In recent months, the Journal de Montreal has reported a series of stories of BMO customers who had their accounts emptied with Interac transfers of up to $10,000. Victims have been told they will not see their money back because they contributed to the unauthorized use of their account by failing to protect their debit card and PIN.
Even in the history of the “mega theft” of data at Desjardins that affected 9.7 million people, victims struggled to obtain the $1,000 compensation owed to them. However, this sum is included in the agreement concluded in the context of a class action that has been brought.
Le Devoir reported in January that the claims process is painful, to the point that many people give up. Victims have been refused on the grounds that their evidence was not sufficient, even though the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) has acknowledged that fraudulent CERB applications had been made on their behalf. To date, no criminal charges have been brought against anyone in this case.
For its part, Quebec is trying to reduce the number of source frauds. Since February 1, the government has forced credit agencies to allow Quebecers to activate a “security freeze” on their credit file at Equifax and TransUnion.
This maneuver prevents fraudsters requesting a loan or a credit card with our identity, because Equifax and TransUnion lose the right to communicate your information to lenders. This lets them know you’re not looking for new credit. The effect is limited, but it’s better than nothing… if you can get the “freeze” activated. Readers of La Presse told me that it was not easy to do.
According to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, financial losses related to fraud reached $531 million in 2022.
While the magnitude of the phenomenon is obvious, the vigor of the efforts to curb it is less so. With good reason, the victims feel left to their own devices, despite sometimes having major impacts on their lives.
“Fraud is a threat that hangs over us like a sword of Damocles. Yes, we have to be vigilant, but on the other side, nothing is being done to protect us,” concludes Fyscillia Ream. Meanwhile, fraudsters are daring and multiplying attacks at our expense.