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West Vancouver couple taken for $500,000 in phone scam

Caller pretends to be fraud investigator
West Vancouver Police Station01 Cindy
West Vancouver police have issued a warning to the public after an Oct. 6, 2021, phone scam in which fraudsters duped a couple out of their savings by purporting to be the police.

A West Vancouver couple may be out $500,000 after they were targeted by sophisticated fraudsters.

According to investigators, the couple received a call on Oct. 6, purporting to be from the police, warning them their debit card may have been used fraudulently. The con is then specifically tailored to make the victims think they are protecting themselves by calling their bank and the police, when in fact they are being duped into transferring money.

Instead of hanging up, the scammers stay on the line and simply play the role of the bank staff, who then direct them to call 911 and request to speak with a fictitious officer.

“That's where they get vulnerable people who aren’t thinking straight,” said Const. Kevin Goodmurphy, West Vancouver police spokesman. “The victim thinks, or perceives, that they are making multiple phone calls to different people, when in fact, it's the same person. It's wildly simple yet effective.”

Even more predatory, the con man tells the victim their bank is the subject of an internal fraud investigation and speaking with their local branch could compromise that investigation. The only way to save their money, the scam goes, is to wire it to another account for safekeeping.

“They’re just laying it on. They’re really trying to keep you hooked, to keep you from telling others,” he said. “It’s believable.”

In this case, the victims eventually did grow suspicious and contacted West Vancouver police (the real ones), who advised them to speak to their bank immediately and in person.

As of Tuesday morning, Goodmurphy said it was not clear whether the transfer was completed or if their money could be recovered.

“$500,000 is significant enough, in and of itself, it’s going to be quite traumatic for anybody who stands to lose that kind of money,” Goodmurphy said.

The bank account where the half-million was destined is in China.

The so-called “hang-up delay” fraud is not new, although it is becoming more frequent, Goodmurphy said. In 2018, a West Vancouver senior lost $800,000 – her entire life savings – to a similar scam. In 2019, a West Van senior nearly lost $185,000 to international fraudsters, but she caught on to the ruse and stopped the transfer before it was too late. And Goodmurphy said he is aware of another very similar case from just last week in which a victim lost $80,000.

Being asked to transfer money or hand over personal information over the phone should always be a red flag, Goodmurphy said.

“We want people to go into the bank themselves physically and speak to a bank rep, if that's possible. It's probably the best. The banks will probably say the same. They're not going to call unsolicited and tell you to move any money around,” he said. “No information should be given over the phone. You should be doing that in person.”