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Residents scammed over the holiday season

Victims got into an online social media discussion with a person they thought was somebody looking for a relationship
Sgt. Trent Sperlie
Sgt. Trent Sperlie, the Sundre RCMP detachment's commander, said that two people called the department over the holiday season to report being defrauded by scammers. File photo/MVP Staff

SUNDRE — Two people called the RCMP over the holiday season to report being defrauded by scammers.

Similar to the lonely hearts scam, the fraudulent activity involved con artists investing time to build a relationship and establish a level of trust with the victims, said Sgt. Trent Sperlie, the local detachment's commander.

“What happened in both these cases, is the victim got into an online discussion through social media with a person they thought was somebody looking for a relationship,” he said.

“It’s never just one message. They develop some sort of a rapport. And based on the relationship that they developed through the communication, there’s a certain level of trust that the victim has.”

After a period of time passes, the discussion eventually leads to making plans to meet in person. But when that day comes, the fraudster sends a message claiming their vehicle broke down and that they need money in the form of gift cards for a tow truck, he said.

“The potential victim thinks that they’re helping this person, (so) they go get these gift cards to the tune of several hundred dollars,” he said, adding the target is then instructed to send pictures of both the front and back of the card.

“Once you do that, you’ve basically given the money away and it’s gone. Once the fraudster gets those gift card numbers, it’s very difficult to be able to track where that ultimately ends up,” he said, adding that’s why scammers ask for gift cards rather than for example direct e-transfers that leave more of a clear digital trail for fraud investigators to follow.

In one of the cases reported in Sundre, the fraudster claimed to be driving in from Edmonton, but the officer investigating the file discovered the phone number was actually from the U.S. state of Michigan.

Requests for gift cards should be considered a big, glaring red flag, he cautions.

“Anybody asks you to pay a bill with a gift card, it’s a fraud,” he said.

Both incidents occurred over the holidays, the first was just two days before the new year, while the other happened on New Year’s Eve.

Simon Ducatel

About the Author: Simon Ducatel

Simon Ducatel is the editor of the Sundre Round Up and a longtime columnist for other publications of Mountain View Publishing.
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