Scotiabank deserves some blame over St. John's money scam: victim

It is a scam that police have warned against for years, but money transfer scams still manage to lure people into giving thousands of dollars away while under the impression they are still in the black.

Chris Fowler seeks accountability from Scotiabank for how it handled bogus cheque

A woman who claimed to be a student coming to St. John's for university ended up scamming Chris Fowler out of more than $4000. (CBC)

It is a scam that police have warned against for years, but money transfer scams still manage to lure people into giving thousands of dollars away while under the impression they are still in the black. 

A St. John's man said he saw red flags but because his bank told him the cheque he received from a potential tenant was legitimate, he believed it was safe to send away his money without repercussions.

Now he's out more than $4,000 and he's warning others not to fall for the same scam. 

It all started when Chris Fowler put an ad on the online classifieds website Kijiji in July to rent a room in his house. Soon after the ad hit the web, he got a reply. 

Chris Fowler says Scotiabank made a mistake that cost him thousands. Now, he wants the Canadian bank to publicly acknowledge the slip up. (CBC )

"She replied saying she was going to Memorial University to do more research and that she was from Houston, Texas," Fowler said. 

After exchanging emails and photos of the room, Fowler thought he would have a new tenant to share his house with in August. 

However, things didn't go as planned. 

"She emailed me and she's like 'there's a cheque in the mail for you.' So, I figure it was just $500 for the rent of the room for a month," Fowler told CBC.

"So I get this cheque for almost $7,000 dollars — $6,000 and change."

'Kind of iffy'

Fowler's soon-to-be roomie said that $1,500 was for first three months rent, and that the rest was meant for a company that would be shipping her furniture to her new home in St. John's.  The woman, who said her name was Ann Adele, asked that Fowler transfer the money meant for the furniture company via Moneygram — a money transfer company — to an address she had provided him.

"I was kind of iffy," Fowler said. 

If you can't trust your bank, why go there?- Chris Fowler

Despite Fowler's hesitation, he deposited the cheque at the Bank of Nova Scotia, or Scotiabank, and waited for the hold to come off the cheque to see if it was real or fake. 

A week later, Fowler was surprised by what the bank told him. 

"The bank teller said 'oh the cheque is cleared' and I said hold on, just to double check ... that cheque for $6,000? She said 'No, that cheque is good, it's a valid cheque.' " 

"I was a bit skeptical, but if the bank is telling me that it is a valid cheque, they're telling me it's good.  So, I trusted my bank." 

With that, Fowler proceeded to send a cheque from his bank account for $4,281.00.

In the red

If he had waited an additional day, Fowler said he would have known that the cheque, in fact, was not cleared — it was counterfeit.

"I said what happened here ... I'm short a lot of money here. The teller said, 'Well, that cheque you deposited seems to be counterfeit.'" 

Fowler quickly realized he was out more than $4,000 and called the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary to report the scam. 

Fowler transferred $4105.00 to whom he thought was his soon-to-be tenant. He was charged $176.00 for the Moneygram transfer, bringing his total loss to $4281.00. (Chris Fowler)

Fowler was also angry at the fact the bank, he said, didn't notify him that the cheque was counterfeit. 

"You trust your bank ... if you can't trust your bank, why go there?"

Accountability sought

Fowler said that a representative from Scotiabank apologized, but he wants something more than just a "sorry."

"I want the bank to come out and say, 'It is some of our responsibility,' because that bank teller told me not once but twice that cheque was clear." 

In a statement to CBC News, Scotiabank said it does its best to keep clients safe from fraud.

"Customers should take care to only deposit cheques from trusted sources and to be aware of any requests that encourage money to be withdrawn on the cheque and sent to the original sender," the statement said. 

Fowler is using his story as a cautionary tale to warn others of the potential fraudsters.

"If you're not sure, just don't do it," Fowler said.

"I got duped and I just wouldn't want to see anyone else get duped."