New Better Business Bureau online tool helps consumers see if they're being scammed

As the number of scams grow in both volume and expense, the Better Business Bureau has come out with a new tool to track them. Every scam reported to them is now being put into a searchable online database that can be sorted geographically.

Searchable, mapable database now available in Canada will help consumers and law enforcement, BBB says

The Better Business Bureau's Scam Tracker warns consumers of illegal schemes and frauds. (Better Business Bureau)

The calls began about a year ago.

"It started out with a lady who was in Lagos, Nigeria, wanting to fall in love with me," says Douglas (not his real name).

Douglas lives in a mid-sized city in eastern Canada. 

He's in his late 60s, divorced, suffers from a host of health problems, including anxiety and depression, for which he is on medication.   

Been scammed? New tool can help you find out

7 years ago
Duration 1:43
New Better Business Bureau online tool helps consumers see if they're being scammed

"I was very vulnerable," he says. That's an understatement.

The scammers' demands

Douglas gave the woman money for airfare, then for medical expenses, then to replace what she said was taken in a robbery.
Mary Power from the Better Business Bureau says their Scam Tracker tool will be a useful tool in the fight against consumer fraud. (CBC News)

Then someone else called and told Douglas his computer was infected. So he gave them money to fix it.

Then someone else called and told him they would get his money back, for a fee. So he sent them the fee.

"I had about five different people calling. 'Send me money, send me money and we'll send you money' and all of this s--t. And I fell for it."

Over the course of 12 months, Douglas says he sent so much money by wire transfer for various scams that he was banned by Western Union and MoneyGram.

Then the people on the phone told Douglas to use his middle name for the transfers so he could send even more.

In all, Douglas says, he is out more than $32,000.  He's a pensioner, he ran up a line of credit and had to use his RRSP to pay it off.

"I'm so embarrassed, it's unbelievable," he says. 

The Scam Tracker tool

This is just the sort of situation the Better Business Bureau is hoping to prevent with the launch of the Canadian version of its BBB Scam Tracker.

Scam Tracker is a free, online searchable and mappable database of all the scams reported to the BBB.

"It's a hot map that will identify scams as they're reported in real time, they will show the number of reported scams, where geographically they're hitting and where they're trending," says Mary Power, president and CEO of the Council of Better Business Bureaus, in an interview from Washington, D.C.

"This tool allows technology to give consumers (access to) quicker information, better information, and trends so that they can protect themselves."

Up and running in the U.S. since February, and with all Canadian BBBs also now collecting information from consumers and processing data, it's now operating in this country.  The BBB says the data is shared with law enforcement agencies.

Scams searchable by type and location

The tool allows consumers who suspect they're being targeted to search by type of scam as well as by geographic location. 

The BBB says they expect the number of scams reported to rise exponentially once more people find out about the site.  They're currently getting about 1,000 scams reported each month in North America and are already spotting trends.   

"There are one or two hot scams per area.  But there are also a lot small scams in one area then they quickly move to another area." says Power, who says the CRA scam is fast becoming the hottest type of scam on the Canadian section of the map.

"One of the greatest benefits is we can see where they're heading.  So if there's a scam directed at elderly folks in the Toronto area and then all of a sudden we see them pop up in Vancouver, the BBB there can send out warnings and alert that population."

"It looks like a fantastic idea." says Daniel Williams of the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre

The CAFC, which works with the RCMP, receives more than 50,000 telephone calls and more than 400,000 emails about scams every year. 

Many of the scams originate overseas, making them a challenge for law enforcement, so educating the public takes on even greater importance.

Scammers just won't stop

Williams says the really big phone fraud operations — of which Douglas repeatedly fell victim to — are mostly based in India and use two main techniques to find their victims.  Some simply go alphabetically through an online phone book.

"Then there are others who go by geographic location.  They'll hit everybody in a community," Williams says.

"With the geographic one, that one makes a lot of sense where they want to be giving the victim detailed information on where to go to send their money. Cause you know, why look up a (money transfer or post office) location in New Brunswick and then a new location in Winnipeg?"

"Get the one in New Brunswick and then hit everybody, or a fair number of people close to that so that they can give them the information without doing the extra work."

Williams also says once a victim falls for a scam, they're in the scammers' system.  The calls increase in number and the scams become more elaborate and complex.

"We've pretty well never seen a case where the suspects give up on a victim who is a proven source of money. They really don't have it in them to leave you alone," Williams says.

Finally figured it out

Douglas didn't realize he'd been scammed until one of the callers tried impersonating a member of the Better Business Bureau of New Jersey.

He called the BBB there and found out the truth.

He also found out about the bureau's Scam Tracker tool and says if had he been aware of it earlier, he might have recognized what was happening to him.

Even now he says the calls are still coming, sometimes half a dozen or more a day. But he insists he's learned his lesson and won't send anymore money, no matter what the story. 

"Oh s--t no, Aaron. I don't have it. I'm just surviving as it is," he says. 

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Aaron Saltzman

Senior Reporter, Consumer Affairs

Aaron Saltzman is CBC's Senior Business Reporter. Tips/Story ideas always welcome.


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