by Irene Galea
When Evelyn Hadican saw a job posting for an elderly caregiver in the Glebe Report in December, she thought it was a miracle. The 72-year-old is dependent on her pension to pay for her rent, and her part-time job as a private yoga instructor was the only thing keeping her from relying on the food bank. Little did she know that just a few weeks later she would be tricked out of over $3,000 in an elaborate cheque fraud scheme. The money has since been returned to her by the bank, but she hopes that sharing her story will help others steer clear of scams.
The woman supposedly named Pamela Johnson who posted the ad was seeking an elderly caregiver to take care of her diabetic grandmother. After offering Hadican the job, they emailed back and forth for several weeks and even exchanged photographs. “Johnson” asked for a resumé and Hadican provided personal references.
But when Hadican asked her to meet in person, Johnson immediately responded that she and her grandmother were in Australia until mid-January. But, she said, they would need an electric wheelchair upon their return. She suggested that Hadican deposit a cheque of $3,400 for them, keep some for herself as advance payment and forward the rest to another account for someone else to purchase the chair. Hadican saw no problem in this and followed Johnson’s instructions. A few days later, Johnson sent her a second cheque, this time by express delivery.
It wasn’t until after Hadican had deposited the second cheque for Johnson that she asked for her account balance. When she saw it, her stomach dropped. She had been charged over $3,000. Her savings were gone. “I thought the world had come to an end,” she said. “I thought it was a dream.”
Hadican had become the victim of a cheque fraud scheme. Unknowing victims are asked by scammers to deposit cheques into their personal accounts and then to transfer that money to a second account. The cheque is usually stolen or forged, so it then bounces, leaving the victim paying thousands from their own funds. “Pamela Johnson” does not exist and the money she sent never did, either.
Hadican immediately rushed to the Ottawa Police station. She says that the police told her they wouldn’t be able to investigate her case for over a year, and if they did, there is no guarantee that she would get her money back. “I thought the police were supposed to help us,” she said. “I was shocked.”
But, following this kind of case is almost impossible, according to Staff Sergeant Stephanie Burns from the Ottawa Police Fraud Unit. Banks are required to follow privacy laws, which means that the police can’t access account holder information without sufficient evidence and warrants. And, even if they do find where the money was sent, they must lay a charge and go to court. It is then up to a judge to decide whether restitution will be asked for.
Heartbroken, Hadican returned to her bank, but was told initially that there was nothing they could do. Banks are not required to recompense victims of cheque fraud for their losses.
“I remember thinking, ‘I can’t believe I’m at this age in my life to find out that our institutions are just a fraud themselves. You know what I mean? As a customer of a bank, I thought I was protected in some way.’”
After an excruciating couple of days, the bank decided they would repay her losses. The Glebe Report reached out to TD bank for comment but they did not respond at time of writing.
However, Cam McCaw, a Seneca College accounting professor specializing in fraud, said that the bank’s response in giving back her money is likely due to a mixture of goodwill and reputation purposes. “The bank probably looked at the situation and saw two things: a vulnerable victim and bad publicity. I would think, then, that they’re very sensitive to their reputation,” said McCaw.
Hadican is not alone. Canadians lost almost $300 million to fraudsters from 2014 to 2016 according to a 2017 Competition Bureau Canada study. Unfortunately, seniors continue to be targeted. Almost $30 million of this amount was stolen from Canadians ages 60 to 79.
“It frustrates me. People who are vulnerable get targeted,” said Burns. “They could be desperate, they could be naïve, they are vulnerable. They get fooled. And people like seniors have no way to make that money back.”
This exact scam has had success elsewhere. Last October, the same fraudster tricked a resident of Chelsea, Quebec. Jean Lambert was fooled by the same ad, which he saw in his local paper, the The Low Down to Hull and Back News. The scammer has yet to be caught.
According to the Competition Bureau, making a complaint is the best way to help the authorities gather evidence to protect consumers and businesses. Victims of fraud should report their case to the Canada Anti-Fraud Centre, the Competition Bureau or the RCMP.
Irene Galea, a writer from downtown Toronto, is pursuing a Bachelor of Journalism at Carleton University. Her work has been published in Centretown News, The Charlatan and the Glebe Report.