Sudbury

Thessalon woman victim of online buy-and-sell scam

A Thessalon woman, who fell victim to an online buy-and-sell scam, is warning others to not make the same mistake. Maureen McLean lost $1,500 when she thought she was hiring someone to do repair work at her camp south of Sudbury.

Maureen McLean lost $1500 to fraudsters after she tried to hire a contractor from a Kijiji ad

Maureen McLean of Thessalon, points to a picture of the damage to the roof of her camp in the French River area. She tried to hire contractors from Kijiji, but was scammed out of $1500. (Supplied/Maureen McLean)

Maureen McLean of Thessalon fell victim to an online buy-and-sell scam, and now she wants to warn others to not make the same mistake.

When she discovered the roof of her camp in the French River area, south of Sudbury, had caved in over the winter, she wanted the repair work done as soon as possible.

However all the contractors she knew and trusted were extremely busy and already booked up.

So McLean went to Kijiji to post an ad looking for someone to do the work. She had been using the online buy and sell site for more than a decade without any problems.

After several offers she settled on a contractor who said he was based in Espanola, who was friendly on the phone and reassuring that he and his brother could do the job the following week.

The two settled on a final price of $7,000 for the repair work and supplies. But it was the next day that the first red flag surfaced.

McLean says the contractor texted her to ask how she planned to pay for the supplies needed for the work.

"I was so excited about somebody doing the job that it was like okay, they seem like really nice people and the cost of materials seem like a reasonable amount, so I stupidly...sent them $1,000."

When Maureen McLean demanded to see a picture of the supplies she was purchasing, this is the picture the 'contractors' sent her. (Supplied/Maureen McLean)

After she sent that first amount she requested an invoice, and was given numerous excuses why they couldn't provide one.

When McLean began to ask more questions, the individual began to get nasty and seeking more money.

She didn't realize this was a fraud until after she paid another $500.

I had some gut feelings that I was fighting.- Maureen McLean, online scam victim

"This is really humiliating and embarrassing."

"I thought well okay, I'm going to give them the benefit of the doubt. They're promising to be there on the Monday. I'm not going to pay the full amount, but I will pay what I had promised to pay."

McLean says that's when threatening and harassing phone calls, emails and texts started.

"I wasn't comfortable because they knew where my place was, they knew my phone number, my email, my address."

That's when she decided to contact provincial police, who confirmed she had been the victim of a fraudster.

"I had some gut feelings that I was fighting. I wasn't listening to my gut feelings, and I just thought I'd give them the benefit of the doubt one more time."

The OPP was able to get the threatening and harassing communication to stop, but were not able to charge anyone.

"I never had an address for these people," McLean said. She says the fraudsters ads on Kijiji were quickly taken down after the police became involved in her case.

"But they went back up under a different name. So they're still on Kijiji, whoever they are."

Anti-Fraud Centre: Recognize. Reject. Report

If scammers can't trick someone then they'll be more aggressive and try to extort or threaten them, says Jeff Thomson, the manager of the intake unit at the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre in North Bay.

The centre's slogan is: Recognize. Reject. Report.

"Step one is recognizing, educating yourself, doing your due diligence," Thomson said

"Step two: rejecting the scam, going with your gut so you don't lose any money and step three is reporting. And the importance of reporting is that you could have that missing piece of information for police."

Thomson says victims are sometimes afraid to come forward because they're embarrassed they fell for the scam.

"You're not alone at the end of the day."

"It's really important to get out talking," he said. "The more you pass the message along the more you're educating other people, so that they don't become victims either."

Thomson tells people to always go with their gut feelings about a situation. If something doesn't feel right, reject the fraudster and report it to police.

The harsh winter caused the roof of Maureen McLean's camp in the French River area to collapse. She went to Kijiji to hire contractors because all the ones she knew were busy with other work. (Supplied/Maureen McLean)

"I'm so angry with myself for being so foolish. I'm not a naive person." McLean said  of being taken in by the fraudster's friendly and personable personality in the beginning.

She admits that she ignored the red flags she initially saw because the fraudster had built a rapport with her and was reassuring her that the work would be done.

"That's why I wanted to get this out there and hopefully prevent any body else from getting ripped off like I did."

McLean lost $1,500, and the roof of her camp still hasn't been repaired, but a trusted contractor friend says he'll help her out later this summer.

About the Author

Angela Gemmill

Journalist

Angela Gemmill is a CBC journalist who has covered news in Sudbury, Ont., for 14 years. Connect with her on Twitter @AngelaGemmill. Send story ideas to angela.gemmill@cbc.ca

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