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Nova Scotia man who lost thousands in gift-card scam worries he'll be evicted

A Lower Sackville, N.S., man is out thousands of dollars, behind on his rent and worried he could be evicted after falling victim to a gift-card scam days before Christmas.

Peter Jones, 58, estimates he lost $3K just days before Christmas

Peter Jones bought nearly a dozen gift cards because he thought he was working with a reputable loan agency. (Emma Smith/CBC)

A Lower Sackville, N.S., man is out thousands of dollars and worried he could be evicted after falling victim to a gift-card scam this holiday season. 

"They took me for a ride and I learnt the lesson the hard way," said Peter Jones, who estimates he lost about $3,000 after buying gift cards that were later wiped clean. 

Jones does odd jobs through his church, and has a service dog that helps with his depression and anxiety. 

He said because he was late paying his rent he received an eviction notice last week and worries his cellphone will soon be shut off.

Thanks to a friend, he was able to pay December rent but still doesn't know what he's going to do for January. His landlord declined comment.

Jones, who lost his wife last year, lives with his older brother and dog, Zoro. (Emma Smith/CBC)

It all started when Jones filled out an online loan form he came across on Facebook. The agency promised a loan if he provided his banking information and bought gift cards to build up his credit. 

Jones's neighbour Wendy Woodrow, who realized too late what had happened and called police, said he's not internet-savvy and trusted the Better Business Bureau logo on the document was real. 

Jones said it appeared funds were being deposited into his account, so for several days he visited the nearby Shoppers Drug Mart and bought Steam gift cards worth hundreds each.

When he got home, Jones gave the gift card codes to someone on the phone. His bank eventually froze his account, he said. 

Wendy Woodrow has been trying to help her neighbour. (Emma Smith/CBC)

"Even now Peter doesn't 100 per cent understand what's going on," said Woodrow, adding that Jones is scared that he's in trouble. 

"This is not his fault.... Somebody took advantage of him."

The Nova Scotia RCMP said it's investigating, but admits finding culprits in cases like this is nearly impossible.

"No reputable agency will ask a person to buy gift cards as a payment for something," said Cpl. Jennifer Clarke in an email. "If someone calls you and is asking to get access to your computer, or asks for your account numbers or passwords, it's likely a scam."

Should cashier step in?

Woodrow said she partially blames the Shoppers Drug Mart that sold Jones the cards several days in a row. 

"If there's an older gentleman who walks into the store, doesn't even know what a Steam card is, and is buying $900 at a time, like how can you guys sell this?" she asked.

In an email, Loblaw Atlantic said in recent months stores have made efforts to let customers and cashiers know about potential scams, but that scammers target the most vulnerable. 

Jones said the loan document looked legitimate because it had logos for his bank and the Better Business Bureau. (Emma Smith/CBC)

"This time of year it is not unusual for people to be purchasing gift cards as gifts so it is not possible for us to identify the purpose of every purchase," said spokesperson Mark Boudreau.

Stephen O'Keefe, a loss prevention consultant with the Retail Council of Canada, said retailers are becoming more aware of gift-card scams and often display warning signs in their stores.

He said 2017 was a rough year given the large number of scams reported. 

"The criminals keep adapting to their environment, and so therefore we ought to as well, and that's what we try our best to do," O'Keefe said. 

Jones spent Christmas with Woodrow and her family, and has been volunteering at Knox United Church where he's a member of the choir.

He lost his wife last year and said he's keeping his lap dog, Zoro, close by these days.

"If I go in my bedroom he follows me in, and stays right with daddy, won't leave daddy's side. He keeps me calm."