Fraud can come in all forms. For local businesses, being on the lookout for anything out of the ordinary can prevent headaches, and major losses, says OPP constable Mike Glueheisen.
Recently La Place RendezVous manager Sarah Noonan noticed something strange – a sizable cheque, from a business she didn’t recognize. Rather than deposit it, she called authorities instead.
“She did all the right things,” said Glueheisen.
The hotel was an intended victim of a common business scam, in which a fake enterprise – in this case a greenhouse company – will send a large cheque. The business deposits the cheque, and before it is able to fully clear through the bank, the scammers call the business, with a story of how the cheque was sent in error, and request a refund – typically to be sent through an e-transfer or in the form of gift cards. A trusting business will return the money, only to find themselves on the hook when the cheque is revealed to be fake.
In Noonan’s case, she was able to keep herself safe, by knowing that she hadn’t dealt with the business before.
According to Glueheisen, businesses can prevent falling victim in similar scams by being aware of who they’re doing business with. If a cheque appears from an unfamiliar source, get on the phone and call the company, he said. A conversation with someone in the company to verify that a payment was made will provide the verification, and protect everyone involved – particularly if the cheque is stolen. A cheque from a company that doesn’t have contact information or a legitimate address is a red flag that it’s likely fake.
Even a call to your own accounting department can help prevent business scams, said Glueheisen. Account payable and receivable staff will be aware of outstanding bills and invoices, and know which companies the business is currently working with.
This is just one of the many scams circulating throughout out district at any given time, noted Glueheisen. Another involved a couple who had a card creating machine, in the back seat of their car. They used a fake card to buy a large quantity of items and gift cards from a local business. The next day, they created another card, and attempted to repeat the scam at the same business, which prompted a call to the police.
“Unfortunately, if it’s easy and it works, people will keep doing it, again and again,” said Glueheisen.
The business in that case was lucky that the scam was local; most victims lose their money to overseas scammers, where Canadian authorities can’t easily reach them. This is often the case for many of the telephone scams, such as grandparent scams. In that one, someone posing as a grandchild in a distressing situation, calls asking for money – perhaps for legal fees, car repairs or other emergency situation.
According to Glueheisen, these calls are often from overseas call centres.
“These aren’t people in homes,” he said. “They’re in huge call centres overseas. This is their job, to scam people.”
Romance scams are another common occurrence, he said. These scammers prey on the lonely, by building online relationships. They shower the victim with the attention they crave, and then the requests begin – money to fix a broken car, help with late rent, etc. The victims will pay, thinking the relationship is real. All the while, they’re being scammed. The situation can be complicated if compromising photos are sent – they can be used as blackmail, often for very large sums.
“People are often embarrassed, and feel vulnerable,” said Glueheisen. “It’s heartbreaking.”
As a community officer, Glueheisen is available for educational opportunities on many topics; he’s made many presentations to seniors regarding fraud.
He said the best thing to do if you think you, someone you know, or your business is being scammed, is to speak up. The OPP works in partnership with the RCMP and the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC) to combat these crimes. Victims often feel embarrassment or shame at being deceived – so much so that it’s estimated that only five per cent of victims actually report the scam. But by speaking up, police can take action. If you think you’ve been the victim of a fraud, call the OPP at 1-888-310-1122 and the CAFC at 1-888-495-8501.