British Columbia Go Public

Scammers convince senior he's funding terrorism in elaborate con job

More than $100K of victim's debt forgiven after Go Public's inquiries

Rosa Marchitelli - CBC News

May 22, 2017

Ron Jones was told to wire money to various locations in India where he believed police would be waiting to catch terrorists. (CBC)

Out-of-country con artists were able to convince a 90-year-old B.C. man he was funding terrorism, and that the only way to avoid prosecution was to pay more than $200,000 — his entire savings and more.

Now he's going public to save others from falling for the scam.

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Within months of being contacted, Ron Jones had emptied his bank accounts, maxed out his credit cards, and took out two mortgages on his small condo in an effort to clear his name.

"It was so well planned and carried out I felt it was genuine," Jones says. "I can honestly say I was scammed in such an evil way."

A con years in the making

The elaborate scam began about four years ago, when the New Westminster resident got an email from what he thought was a company offering to monitor and "clean" his computer of viruses for a monthly fee. He signed up, not realizing it was an attempt to either get him to pay for a bogus service or get his personal information.

About a year later, he got a call saying the monitoring company had gone out of business, and offering to refund a portion of what the senior had paid for the service.

Jones said $1,300 was deposited into his chequing account. But the man called a few days later to say too much money was accidentally deposited. He asked Jones to wire $1,000 to an address in India, which he did.

Scammer impersonates CIA agent

Two years later, Jones received another call, this time from a man who claimed to work for the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. Jones says he was told the Indian government had an arrest warrant out for him for aiding and abetting a terrorist group in India.

He was told the $1,000 he wired to India went to a terrorist group, which had recently killed innocent people in an attack — so Jones was being held responsible for the deaths.

"That really staggered me because I'm a very gentle person," he says.

Jones feared losing his home as a result of an elaborate, four-year scam where cybercriminals made him believe he had unintentionally helped terrorists. (CBC)

Jones wanted proof, so the con man sent him an official-looking document, which he claimed was the arrest warrant.

"It was so genuine looking. I thought this really must be something that the Indian government has brought against me," Jones says.

Earns senior's trust

The fake CIA agent earned Jones's trust by offering to help him, telling the senior if he assisted the Indian government in catching the terrorists, he'd be in the clear.

He also told Jones not to tell anybody of the offer of help and to destroy all communications between the two — or the so-called CIA agent would get in big trouble.

Roslyn McKoen questions why Scotiabank didn't call her about her father's unusual behaviour. Her name was on the bank account. (CBC)

Jones was told to wire more money to specific locations in India, so police there could nab the terrorists when they arrived to collect. Every day for three months, except on Sundays, Jones says he was given a different name and address and asked to wire money, between $1,000 and $10,000 a day.

"He assured me that when a person sends enough money," Jones says. "I would be declared innocent and they'd send a cheque for what I had paid out."

McKoen helps her father pack up his home to be sold. (CBC)

Jones eventually ran out of money and had to go to his daughter to ask for more. By the time his daughter found out, the B.C senior was out more than $200,000. He couldn't afford to pay his two new mortgages, and would have to sell his condo to pay it back.

He reported the crime to police in New Westminster. Investigators told him they couldn't do anything as the scammers seemed to be located in India.

No central agency

Canadians lost more almost $13 million to con artists located outside the country last year. That means 70 per cent of the total amount lost to cyber scams ended up in foreign hands, according to numbers provided by the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.

The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre estimates Canadians lost almost $13 million in 2016 to scammers outside of the country. (Peter Kovalik/CBC)

It's a growing problem, yet Go Public found despite calls for a co-ordinated national agency to better investigate and shut down international cyber criminals, nothing has been done.

"There are a number of national organizations aimed at combating various forms of cybercrime, but no single co-ordinative body," RCMP spokesperson Sgt. Harold Pfleiderer tells Go Public in an email statement.

The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre says Canadians lost the most money to these top four scam types last year. (Philip Street/CBC)

That's despite efforts in 2015 from a number of police agencies to get the federal government to form a National Cybercrime Co-ordination Centre to help police, government, researchers and the private sector — like banks — prevent and respond to cybercrime.

"At this time, the RCMP is participating in a federal review of existing measures to protect Canadians and critical infrastructure from cyberthreats," Pfleiderer writes.

156 million scam emails daily

Mourad Debbabi, a cyber forensics scholar at Concordia University in Montreal, says more than 156 million scam and spam emails are sent to Canadians every day.

The problem, Debbabi says, is there are too many cybercrimes and too little communication between Canadian authorities to effectively fight the threats.

"There is a need to have some leadership, maybe initiated at the level of government, to bring all these parties together to collaborate, to be more effective on cybercrimes," he says.

Prof. Mourad Debbabi, right, helps lead the Concordia Security Research Centre, which studies cyber security, forensics and privacy. (Dave St. Amant/CBC)

He, too, wants to see a national cybercrime unit and legislation that would allow banks, government, and police to share information and take down scamming networks.

"Cybercrime is becoming a very concerning phenomenon. It's propagating to all aspects of our lives," Debbabi says.

"We've seen incidents where people are abused, companies that are abused, cases where sensitive information is being stolen from government agencies."

Mourad Debbabi's team at Concordia University in Montreal tracks millions of computer viruses and spam emails sent on a daily basis. (Dave St. Amant/CBC)

While trying to pay off the scammers, Jones took all the money from his Scotiabank accounts and credit card. The two mortgages came from Capital Direct.

Go Public helps recoup money

Scotiabank tells Go Public "to ensure the integrity of transactions, we ask a set of specific questions of the customer to determine certain key facts."

After Go Public's inquiries, Capital Direct forgave the entire $57,500 second mortgage and didn't charge Jones interest on the $105,000 other mortgage until he sold his condo and could pay it back.

Scotiabank also reviewed Jones's case and forgave more than $60,000 in debt.

With the help of his daughter, Jones has now sold his condo, paid the mortgage company back and moved into a retirement home.

"The bottom dropped out of my whole life. It was such a terrible realization," Jones says.

"I thought, how on earth at my age? And yet I was so easily taken."

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Con artists convinced a 90-year-old B.C. man he was funding terrorism, and that the only way to avoid prosecution was to pay more than $200,000 — his entire savings and more  2:07

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rosa Marchitelli
@cbcRosa

Rosa Marchitelli is a national award winner for her investigative work. As co-host of the CBC news segment Go Public, she has a reputation for asking tough questions and holding companies and individuals to account. Rosa's work is seen across CBC News platforms.

With files from Rachel Ward and Jenn Blair
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