Manitoba

International fraudster bilks university student of $8K in banking scam

A 20-year-old university student says she is out thousands of dollars after falling victim to an international online scam artist based out of Winnipeg.

Victim says she lost thousands after accused scammer answered a cleaning ad she placed on Kijiji

The woman, who CBC News is not identifying, says she was bilked out of $8,000 by accused fraudster, Michael Odine. (CBC)

A 20-year-old university student says she is out thousands of dollars after falling victim to an international online scam artist based out of Winnipeg.

The student says she was bilked out of $8,000 by Michael Odine, who faces more than 50 fraud charges after people across North America and Europe lost $230,000 in online scams in the past two years.

"I kept beating myself up over this knowing that I could've prevented it, but it's comforting to know I'm not the only one," said the University of Manitoba student, who CBC is not naming and will refer to as Kelly.

Kelly says she came into contact with the Odine 10 months ago when she posted an ad on Kijiji looking for work as a housekeeper.

She said a person calling themself "Brenda Knight" responded to her ad.

"[She] gave me a story of how she was a business woman moving to Winnipeg from the United States with her family on a specific day in January and was looking for someone to clean her house on a weekly basis," said Kelly, who had no job and a line of credit for her tuition.

The university student said she asked to speak on the phone with "Brenda Knight" but was told she had hearing problems.

At that point, she says there were no red flags because the Knight's story seemed believable, she had good grammar and "she seemed like a nice lady."

Buying art in Africa

She accepted a cleaning job without meeting "Brenda Knight" because the woman said she was moving to Winnipeg that month. In the meantime, she also agreed to run errands for the woman until she arrived.

But there was never going to be a cleaning job. And the errands ended up involving visits to a bank in an elaborate scheme to move money through her personal account.

I kind of sounded skeptical and she said 'Oh, I'm not trying to scam you.' She specifically said that.- Kelly

"She sent a cheque to me in the mail, but only told me that she did so after the fact, so I felt obligated to deal with the money," said Kelly. "Upon her request, I sent a money order to her 'agent' with the money I received and the rest of it from the cheque was my first week's payment."

The name of the so-called agent was Benjiman Lawson, who had a Winnipeg address. Knight described him as a facilitator who was helping her with the move.

Soon after, she was asked to deposit a second cheque and send another money order to Lawson. 

When the third and final cheque arrived, Kelly was asked to send the money transfer to an address in Africa to buy a painting.

Winnipeg police confirmed Odine is not a Canadian citizen. Court documents show he was charged for trying to forge a Nigerian passport.

Kelly said she asked Knight about sending the money via e-transfer but Knight didn't want her to, which she admits raised suspicion.

"I kind of sounded skeptical and she said 'Oh, I'm not trying to scam you.''' said Kelly. "She specifically said that."

'Personally violated'

Despite being worried, she says she went along with everything because the bank teller assured her there was enough money in Brenda Knight's account for the cheque made out to Kelly to clear. 

About three weeks after her first contact with Knight, Kelly noticed her account was overdrawn.

"In total, I lost over $8,000 and felt personally violated by a 'woman' who had worked hard to gain my trust."

In January, she reported the scam to police.

Two months later, police told her they had a suspect. Odine was arrested and charged weeks later. then released on bail in April. 

While out on bail in May, he was arrested and charged with additional fraud-related offences again. Then on Oct. 3, while still in custody, police charged him with 24 more charges, bringing the total to over 50. He remains in custody.

The student knows she won't get her money back and is speaking up in hopes of preventing others from falling for a similar ruse.

"Ask questions, meet the person, at least talk to them on the phone, don't take money that is not cash or a certified cheque," she recommends. "If they seem in a hurry, that's a big red flag."

About the Author

Jillian Taylor

CBC Reporter

Jillian Taylor has been with CBC Manitoba since 2012 and has been reporting for a decade. She was born and raised in Manitoba and is a member of the Fisher River Cree Nation. In 2014, she was awarded the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association's travel bursary, which took her to Australia to work with Indigenous journalists. Find her on Twitter: @JillianLTaylor