The scammers are out there: what you need to know to avoid being taken

James Hamm
Winnipeg Police Services
Crime Prevention Column

She was in her early 80s, very independent, and always proud to help where she could. 

So, it was no real surprise to those who knew her that she answered the call literally and figuratively when the phone rang. The person on the other end of the line asked her to help with an internal investigation concerning the integrity of her local bank.

It sounded very legitimate, and like so many of us, she simply wanted to help. She was out a chunk of money for her efforts and left with lingering trust issues.

The Winnipeg Police Service Financial Crimes Unit knows this as the bank examiner scam. It’s an all-too-frequent impersonation scam we see – one of the types of frauds law enforcement agencies across Canada are highlighting as part of Fraud Prevention Month.

How it works

Typically, the fraudster impersonates a bank investigator from the target’s bank. The scam usually starts over the telephone where the victim is cold-called by the fraudster posing as a bank investigator, looking into suspicious transactions within the victim’s accounts. 

The fraudster usually tells them that it is an inside job involving a teller skimming off the top of deposited funds. After a little convincing, the fraudster asks the victim to help with the investigation. 

Once the victim agrees, the fraudster instructs the victim to attend one of their branches, withdraw funds (usually a few thousand), and deposit or transfer those funds into a different account at another branch where the alleged dirty teller is working. 

The money is quickly moved out of the account by the fraudster, and the victim is out of their money. 

In the case I’m sharing, the fraudster met the woman outside the branch once she made the deposit. She handed over the money – never to be seen again. 

An investigation was launched, and our Forensics Artist even created a sketch we shared across town in hopes of finding him. To this day, the matter remains unsolved. 

But how could she not know?

When matters like this make the news, there are too many people quick to blame the victims for not being hip to the scam. That’s unfair. These fraudsters are very skilled at manipulation and deceit. 

They are convincing and quick to isolate the target by telling them not to tell anyone to protect the investigation. They will often even give the victim what looks like a legitimate receipt. The return of the money is promised, but it never is returned.

The victim is assured that it will be returned in a few days after the apprehension of the dishonest employee.

It seems exciting, right? Something right out of a police show on television. 

That’s not what this is. And for our investigators, these cases are complex and often impossible to solve months later.

This scheme depends on victims remaining passive and not asserting enough to ask questions and insist on clear answers.

Con artists control their victims by frightening them—saying they are losing money to a dishonest teller and then offering them a “solution” by promising to replace the lost money.

Protect Yourself

While the Winnipeg Police Service continues to investigate these matters, you can help combat these frauds through prevention and awareness:

Remember:

• Banks and other financial institutions will never ask you to assist in an internal investigation. They all have a corporate security department who these types of incidents.

• Be wary of early morning phone calls from individuals purporting to be from a financial institution. The fraudsters usually call early in the morning to catch people who have not yet woken up and may not yet be alert.

• Do not assume phone numbers appearing on your call display are accurate. Fraudsters use call-spoofing technology to disguise themselves and make it appear to be calling from a bank.

• If you get a phone call regarding suspicious activity with your bank account, speak to a representative at your local branch in person.

For more information on the Bank Investigator scam and how to protect yourself, visit the Canadian Anti-fraud centre website: www.antifraiudcentre.ca

James Ham is the Communications Coordinator for the Winnipeg Police Service

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