'Can't get blood from a stone': Banks go after senior caught in extortion scam

The bad guys needed less than a month to shake down a 78-year-old for $50,000. Then the victim faced another threat: legal action by the big banks looking to collect in the money she lost.

TD drops $19K lawsuit, BMO and RBC offer help after Go Public inquires

Gulshan Ladhani lost $50,000 in an extortion scheme she fell for not long after her brothers died. Then she faced legal threats from the banks she had borrowed from. (CBC)

International scam artists took less than a month to shake down 78-year-old Gulshan Ladhani for more than $50,000.  

The Toronto senior gave them everything she had, then in desperation, scrambled to borrow money from three different banks after the threats against her family kept coming.

​But after losing all that cash, Ladhani found herself facing a whole other threat: legal action from those same banks demanding repayment, plus interest and fees.​

"Where I get the money to pay them?" said Ladhani, who is originally from Uganda.

"I don't have any money. I don't work. I'm a senior, an old lady."

After inquiries by Go Public, one bank has dropped a lawsuit against Ladhani and two others have offered to help.

Threats against family members

For the scammers, July 2015 was the perfect time to target Ladhani.

I'm going to kill your family.- Scammer told senior

Ladhani already was in a bad psychological place. Two of her brothers had recently died, and now someone was threatening her other relatives.

"I'm going to kill your family," she said the scammer told her. "That why I so afraid and I don't say anything to nobody."

The senior says the scammer threatened to deport her and hurt her family. (Scott Galley/CBC)

The criminals first claimed to be from the Canadian immigration department. They told Ladhani she missed a deadline to fill out a form confirming her identity, and would be arrested and deported if she didn't pay.

In a few weeks, at the direction of the con artists, Ladhani made 23 wire transfers totalling more than $50,000 to different locations and people in India.

'Didn't know what to do'

When the calls got more aggressive, Ladhani grew increasingly afraid.

The scammers knew where she lived and told her she was being watched. It turns out they were tracking Ladhani's movements through her cellphone.

"I didn't know what to do," she said, her hands and voice shaking.

The extortion was discovered after Ladhani had a breakdown and was placed under psychiatric care.

Ladhani says she's scared to answer her phone or door after scammers extorted thousands of dollars from her. (CBC)

Her family reported the crime to the banks she had borrowed from and provided evidence, including a police report that determined Ladhani was the victim of extortion.

They also gave banks her psychiatric assessment, which found Ladhani's cognitive functions and judgment were impaired while she was being extorted.

Despite being provided with evidence that Ladhani was the victim of crime, the banks went after the senior to get back their money.

Lawsuit filed

TD Canada Trust filed a lawsuit to collect the $19,000 Ladhani took from a line of credit and credit cards, plus 25 per cent interest and court costs.

The Bank of Montreal sent her a "demand for payment" letter in July 2016 for the more than $8,000 in cash advances on her MasterCard. The letter included the threat of legal action if she didn't pay.

On behalf of the Royal Bank of Canada, a collection agency sent the senior a demand letter for the more than $4,000 in cash advances she took from another credit card to give to the scammers.

The scammers tracked Ladhani's movements on her cellphone. (CBC)

After Go Public contacted the three banks, each offered help.

TD dropped the lawsuit and forgave the entire $19,000 debt.

"It is very unfortunate that Ms. Ladhani fell victim to fraud and we are in the process of resolving this matter with her directly so that she can move on from this difficult ordeal," spokeswoman Daria Hill said in an email to Go Public.

Hill also said the bank reviews fraud on case by case basis before deciding on a plan of action.

'Deliberately target the elderly'

RBC has reached out to Ladhani, telling her it will no longer pursue the debt.

"We understand how stressful it is for clients who may have been impacted by scams, particularly ones that, according to authorities, deliberately target the elderly," A.J. Goodman, spokesman for RBC, said in an email.

"In Ms. Ladhani's case … we are willing to work with her to minimize the impact of this unfortunate situation."

It's not like she's a younger person who can go out and work.- Wanda Morris, seniors advocate

A spokesman for Bank of Montreal also said his bank will help her out of the situation.

"We always try to work with our customers to find ways we can to help and Ms. Ladhani's situation is no exception," Ralph Marranca said in an interview.

'Heavy handed'

Seniors advocate Wanda Morris was relieved to hear the banks now are helping Ladhani.

She called the banks' earlier decisions to pursue the senior for the money "heavy handed," adding financial institutions sometimes settle debts for 10 cents on the dollar.

"You can't get blood from a stone," said Morris, who is the vice-president of advocacy for CARP, a non-profit that supports seniors.

"It's not like she's a younger person who can go out and work and pay down this debt."

Wanda Morris, vice-president of advocacy for CARP, says banks have a moral responsibility when dealing with victims of crime. (CBC)

Though banks have the legal right to try to collect, Morris said they also have a moral responsibility when dealing with victims of crime. 

She and other advocates are pushing for a national policy. The so-called "safe harbour" would force banks and investment firms to flag and freeze assets if they suspect seniors are being financially abused.

Still scared

Ladhani said she wishes that kind of policy had been in place for her. She blames herself for falling for the scam, and says she no longer trusts anybody.

She rarely goes out anymore. Footsteps outside her apartment or a knock on the door are enough to cause panic and fear.

"Even now, I scared. I hear something, I think they are coming."

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Rosa Marchitelli is a national award winner for her investigative work. As co-host of the CBC News segment Go Public, she has a reputation for asking tough questions and holding companies and individuals to account. Rosa's work is seen across CBC News platforms.