A young B.C. woman says an oversight by tellers at Canada's largest credit union helped scammers steal $5,000 from her.
Amanda Peacock, 20, was fresh out of college this summer and looking for a job when she fell victim to a widespread hoax, known as the "secret shopper scam."
"I lost all of my money … to some scam artist that's probably spending it on bad things," said Peacock. "It is the worst feeling to be robbed like that."
Peacock responded to a job ad on Craigslist and was "hired" by a company calling itself Canpro Market Development, which claimed to be a market research company from St. John's, N.L. The RCMP calls the company "bogus."
Peacock said her new "employer" sent her two "CIBC" bank drafts, each for close to $2,500. She was told to keep $200 and use the rest of the money to "test" various businesses on their customer service — including Western Union — where she was to wire several thousand dollars back to her "employer."
"I was told it was my job to see if [Western Union] was checking for ID — and [the amount wired] had to be over a thousand dollars," Peacock said.
'Money up front'
"They gave you the money up front, instead of spending your own and sending receipts, so it sounded perfect," she said.
The letter sent to her with the bank drafts said, "In order for your placement to become a permanent full/part-time position, all tasks should be performed in a professional and expeditious manner."
"My husband and I were both a little bit skeptical, but then I know there [are] secret shoppers and mystery shoppers," said Kathy Peacock.
Her daughter then went to her branch of the Vancouver City Savings Credit Union — twice — to deposit the bank drafts. She said they were accepted by tellers without question and immediately credited to her account.
Peacock said she then wired most of the money back to her "employers" through Western Union, as instructed by a woman named Rachel.
"I was actually on the phone with her the whole time," said Peacock. "She had given me all the information to fill out on there and then I had to do two transfers.
"She seemed so nice. And she was telling me things about my life and about my schooling and — she seemed like a really nice person. She was very talented in what she did. The only purpose was to steal my money."
Counterfeit bank drafts
Several days later, Peacock said Vancity put a freeze on her account after the bank drafts were returned as counterfeit. Records show the credit union took $3,165 from her savings account to cover part of the cost of the drafts.
"I didn't believe it. I thought there had to be some way that there had to be some mistake," said Peacock. "I contacted the police. I gave them all the information I could, but they said there isn't much they could do because everything was fake. Fake phone number. Fake address.
Peacock said she had been planning to use the money she lost to pay her student loan.
"I really wanted to start paying that off and I could have done so many great things with that money — and now that it's all gone, all I can do is work my butt off a little bit harder … and make it back."
RCMP spokesperson Tim Kreiter said the "secret shopper" scam is widespread and has moved across Canada, often popping up during hard economic times. Ten complaints have been filed since June in B.C.'s Lower Mainland alone, he said.
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Kreiter said the scammers use false names and untraceable, pay-as-you-go cellphones purchased in the U.S.
CBC News tried calling the number on the letter sent to Peacock, but got voice mail and no return call. The address listed — 484 Water St., St. John's, N.L. — is a vacant building.
Carol Penstock, an employment counsellor at the B.C. Institute of Technology, said she often hears from students who are targeted or taken in by scammers.
She said she advises students if anyone is giving money for a job upfront, it is probably too good to be true.
"[The scammers] are bottom feeders. What else can I say?"
Peacock and her mother are upset with Vancity for not catching the fake bank drafts or putting a hold on them until they cleared.
"They're the ones that initially accepted them … and took no responsibility whatsoever for checking them to make sure that they were legitimate. And they didn't hold them," said Kathy Peacock. "They have the blue lights. They check money if it's fake or not, so I don't understand why they don't check these."
Caught by other tellers
Kreiter said in some similar cases, tellers at other institutions have identified the bank drafts as counterfeit, and they haven't been processed. He said it helps police to get the bank draft as evidence, but sometimes the paper is shredded after being sent for clearing.
Peacock said Vancity expressed no concern over what happened in her case and now puts holds on every cheque she attempts to cash.
"When I went back to deposit a cheque that was just over $100, they told me they had to hold it for two weeks until they got to know the company," said Peacock. "I said why didn't you do that before? And he said 'I'm sorry, that's what we have to do now.'
"I've been through a lot lately, and they show no compassion for me whatsoever."
Vancity declined to be interviewed and refused to provide any information about Peacock's case. However, as a result of CBC News inquiries, Peacock was called into her branch and said she was offered an apology and an interest-free loan for the amount she lost.
"The two that talked to me said that they were on vacation when it happened to me and that they were sorry that I wasn't treated with the right respect from their bank," said Peacock.
When Vancity was asked by CBC News if it would be warning its tellers about the "secret shopper" scam, it did not reply.
Instead, the credit union sent a statement, which said, "New and sophisticated scams are invented every day and we have robust policies, training and procedures to help detect and prevent fraud."
"They apologized to me and they were very nice," said Peacock. "But do I think that would have happened if [CBC News]
didn't contact them? No."