Victims of text message scam plead for more protection from their banks
CBC Montreal Investigates hears from dozens of Canadians taken in by offer to earn money carrying ads on cars
Instead of bringing in some extra money to help pay bills, Kristen Isabel and her husband are scrambling to repay their credit union after being scammed out of nearly $3,000.
Like many Canadians, Isabel responded to a text offering her money to carry a company ad on her car.
A stay-at-home mother with four children, it seemed like the perfect fit.
"It would add income without adding to my plate," said Isabel, who lives in Oakville, Man., a small town 50 kilometres west of Winnipeg.
Isabel is one of dozens of Canadians CBC Montreal Investigates heard from after reading our story about the latest cheque overpayment scam.
In that story, Louanne Cataford, a Montreal college student, ended up on the hook for almost $4,000 after falling for a similar offer in an unsolicited text.
Like Cataford, Isabel was sent a cheque for much more than the amount she was to earn from placing the ad on her vehicle.
She was told to keep the first week's payment of $350 for herself and deposit the rest, nearly $3,000, into the account of the person who was to install the advertisement on her car.
Although most cheques are held for a minimum of five days, Isabel's credit union made the funds available to her immediately.
Shortly after she deposited the funds for the installer into a bank account controlled by the scammers, Isabel received an email from someone posing as an employee of the firm Clearly Canadian telling her another installer was being assigned to the job and asking her to return to the bank to get the money back and wait until the company found a replacement installer.
Alarm bells went off.
"I knew at that point, oh my God, I am being scammed," said Isabel, who later found out the cheque had never cleared.
The scammers were likely hoping they could get her to deposit the money into another account before the fraud was discovered.
From: "Clear waters" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Oct 5, 2016 4:00 PM
Subject: Re: Payment Instruction
To: "kristen isabel"
Other would-be victims poised to cash cheques
CBC Montreal Investigates heard from many other victims desperate to get their money back.
Some of their banks had frozen their accounts, leaving them unable to pay their rent.
There were also some happy endings.
Some people had signed onto the job scam and were either waiting for cheques or on the verge of depositing cheques that were almost certainly counterfeit when they read Cataford's story.
They immediately cut off all communication with the scammers.
Excellent credit no help
Noah Nitikman is still kicking himself for falling for the scam.
The Vancouver man thought he'd done his due diligence, asking dozens of questions of someone posing as an employee of the firm Clearly Canadian before he signed an agreement to put the beverage company's ad on his car.
After depositing the cheque, RBC, Nitikman's bank, made the funds available within four days. He said the teller assured him the cheque had cleared.
But once he emailed a photo of the deposit slip to the scammers, he lost all contact with them.
Fearing he'd been scammed, he called his bank immediately. The bank confirmed his worst fears and told him he was responsible for the full amount, close to $4,000.
Nitikman went to his branch, hoping his years as a model client with a spotless credit record would persuade the bank to reimburse him.
"The one time I ask for help, they aren't there to help," said Nitikman.
He appealed to the head of RBC's customer service, who explained that clients are responsible for knowing the reliability of the person or company they accept funds from. In his case, the cheque he got was from a company that had no link to Clearly Canadian.
Cleared cheque could still be fake
RBC also told him he should know how cheque clearing works.
A bank clears a cheque after verifying the account it's drawn on exists, and there are sufficient funds in that account to cover the amount on the cheque. But it can take weeks for a financial institution to discover that cheque was counterfeit.
Nitikman has written a letter to RBC's ombudsman and may end up taking RBC to small claims court.
"I was an innocent player in this fraud," said Nitikman, adding that the banks need to do a better job of explaining to customers about the limitations of the cheque-clearing process.
Repaying with child tax benefit
As for Isabel, the Portage Credit Union where she did her banking discovered the cheque was fraudulent the same week she deposited it, but that was too late.
Isabel said that in her case the teller made the funds available as soon as she deposited what turned out to be a fraudulent cheque, without even telling her she should wait for the cheque to clear.
"If I had waited, this wouldn't be happening right now," said Isabel.
Her credit union has given Isabel and her husband a six-week grace period to come up with the $3,000 she now owes, but the couple may have to take money out of their child tax benefit to cover it — money they need.
"It doesn't help the bills that are still behind," said Isabel.
The credit union is working with Isabel and her husband to ensure they don't lose their home.