'When in doubt, get out': Edmonton police say awareness can fight fraud

Fraud in Edmonton is on the rise — and the Edmonton Police Service is hoping its 13th annual fraud prevention month will help curb that trend.

Almost 4,000 cases of fraud were reported in 2016, police say

Insp. Peter Bruni-Bossio said fraud cases in Edmonton are on the rise, and he hopes fraud prevention month helps curb that. (Trevor Wilson/CBC)

Fraud in Edmonton is on the rise — and the Edmonton Police Service is hoping its 13th annual fraud prevention month will help curb that trend.

EPS is planning on focusing on one specific aspect of fraud each week during March:

  • Week one: High-pressure door-to-door sales;
  • Week two: Fraudulent credit card scams;
  • Week three: Mass marketing scams; and
  • Week four: Break-ins resulting in credit card fraud.

Insp. Peter Bruni-Bossio with EPS said there were 3,982 frauds reported to EPS in 2016, a 23-per-cent interest over the 3,244 reported in 2015.

"We know that many people are too traumatized and embarrassed to report these incidents to police," Bruni-Bossio said Wednesday.
Wednesday's news conference was at Central Lions Seniors Recreation Centre. Fraud is the No. 1 crime against seniors in Edmonton. (Trevor Wilson/CBC)

As police investigations progress, the number of victims is expected to increase and losses are estimated to exceed $10 million in Edmonton, despite the provincial government's recent ban on door-to-door sales of energy-related products.

Though Bruni-Bossio said victims of fraud can be of any age, it is the No. 1 crime committed against seniors.

Not 'stupid people'

As part of Wednesday's news conference, a victim of fraud shared her story.

In 2004, Lisa Ouellette and her husband met the father of her son's best friend. She said he seemed to be hard-working — not flashy, but well-kept.

Lisa Ouellette and her husband were victim of frauds when an acquaintance scammed them out of more than $100,000. (Trevor Wilson/CBC)

They hung out together a few times before he proposed they go into business, fixing up properties and selling them. He and another person would provide the legwork. All the Ouellettes had to do was provide the capital. The partners would split the profits

At first, everything seemed fine. But a while later, a friend pulled Lisa Ouellette aside and told her the man she was working with had scammed people in the past.

"Not all was what it seemed," Lisa Ouellette said.

When the Ouellettes approached the man about the other scams, he denied everything, she said. "He had an answer for everything.

"He assured us that these people were lying."

The man had stolen the couple's identities, opening accounts at various stores, forging their signatures and going to the bank to impersonate Ouellette's husband to make a payment.

"We don't consider ourselves to be stupid people," Lisa Ouellette said.

'Still paying to this day'

The Ouellettes filed a police report. After building a case against the man, police charged him with fraud.

The man was convicted, but the Ouellettes are still suffering after losing more than $100,000.

"We are still paying to this day," Lisa Ouellette said. "We were the lucky ones — we got out with our health, our marriage and our family intact."

Bruni-Bossio said the community should reach out to victims of fraud to support them. Victims can often be embarrassed about being scammed, so EPS is encouraging Edmontonians to reach out to them.

And to avoid future scams, Bruni-Bossio offered one key piece of advice.

"When in doubt," he said, "get out."