'It was torture': Edmonton woman scammed out of $15K by fake RCMP officer
'I honestly, truly believed I was talking to the cops and I was really afraid of hurting my husband’s case'
An Edmonton woman is warning others about an elaborate telephone scam after she was swindled out of more than $15,000 in bogus bail money and legal fees by someone claiming to be an RCMP officer.
Maryam Raza said she was tricked into believing her husband was under arrest for not reporting his identity had been stolen. The caller who claimed to be an RCMP officer instructed her to transfer money through Bitcoin ATMs.
Raza was warned that her husband's alleged crime could lead to $50,000 in fines or 18 months in jail and that involving others would be considered obstruction of justice or could even lead to her deportation, she said.
"I honestly, truly believed I was talking to the cops and I was really afraid of hurting my husband's case," said Raza, who moved to Edmonton from Pakistan four years ago to join her husband, a Canadian citizen.
"I didn't want him to get jailed, for example. That's what was going through my head."
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Raza said her ordeal began on Monday morning this week. She was home alone with her 15-month-old baby when the phone rang. Her call display indicated the RCMP K Division in Alberta had called twice, but when she picked up the line went dead.
Then her husband's cell number popped up. Raza believes she heard him saying hello before a man claiming to be an RCMP officer got on the line and explained they were using her husband's phone because their line was dropping out.
"It made sense at the time," said Raza, recalling the confident and civil tone of the fake police officer, who "talked like Mounties talk" and had answers for all her questions.
"It's just enough to convince you," she said.
Paid with Bitcoin
The bogus officer identified himself as Austin White, badge number 44701. He provided the file number #AB192805 along with many of her family's personal details, including her husband's office location and department where he had apparently been taken into custody.
Joined on the line by a fake lawyer and accountant, the man instructed her to go to a Waves Coffee House in the southwest neighbourhood of Windermere and pay her husband's bail of $2,340 through a Bitcoin ATM. The scammers falsely claimed the machine had been installed by the government.
They warned she was being recorded and when she hung up, they called right back, tying up her home phone line.
When she asked to speak to her husband again she said she was told, "No, you will be able to fairly soon."
"They didn't even let me drop my baby to a babysitter," Raza said.
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For the next five hours, they kept her on the phone, with her screaming toddler in tow, as their requests for money escalated. They directed her to three nearby bank branches and an ATM. At another Bitcoin ATM, she deposited $9,000 in fees for lawyers and paperwork.
She said they told her she needed to pay another $6,000 to clear her husband's name from city, provincial and federal records, which would be finalized when they appeared in court Wednesday.
They also assured her the money was all refundable, and that the officer who would later accompany her husband back to the house would be carrying three cheques, she said.
In the background, she could hear people saying "Hello, RCMP K Division" as if answering other lines, said Raza, who also sent them a photo of her driver's licence.
In total, she sent them $15,140 — all of the couple's savings.
Raza said she got suspicious and the call came to an end when the men suggested she use her credit card.
When she called her husband and found out he was on the bus returning from work rather than in police custody, she said her first thought was "Oh my God, you're safe."
"Then it hit me and I just started bawling my eyes out," said Raza, realizing she had been scammed.
"After, when he was sitting with me in front of me, I realized I could have done so many things that I didn't do. But at the point in time it was actually happening to me it was torture."
Later they figured out how some of their information was likely compromised. Raza said earlier Monday morning, her husband had answered an apparent call from someone at United Parcel Service, insistent that he would need to sign for a package later that day and asking him where he worked.
When no parcel arrived at his workplace, her husband called UPS. But they knew nothing about the call or the parcel.
Tracking IP addresses themselves, they believe the money deposited into Bitcoin ATMs was first transferred to London and then to France, she said. Experts say recovering the virtual currency is difficult.
They have filed a complaint with Bitcoin and also the Edmonton police, who are expected to comment Friday. Police have previously launched awareness campaigns to help people protect themselves against various scams.
Raza said she has since called the fake officer through a WhatsApp number he used to text her the Bitcoin transaction code, but said he hung up on her.
Raza admits she needs to educate herself about Canadian law enforcement but hopes going public will educate others in case they become targets.
She said when a loved one is in trouble, "You stop thinking rationally," and urged others in her position to reach out to someone for help. She also encouraged bank clerks to be on the lookout for those being coerced into withdrawing unusually large sums of money.