Con artists are targeting Ladysmith residents by offering them large sums of money in exchange for secret-shopper opportunities at big-box stores. Would-be scammers have dusted off an old ploy — referred to as “advanced fee letter fraud,” “419” or “Nigerian Letter” scams by the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC) — and added a novel twist.
Allison Brind, branch manager with the Royal Bank of Canada in Ladysmith, said that as of Friday, April 19, five fraudulent cheques had surfaced in Ladysmith. Four of the cheques in question bore counterfeit RBC logos while a fifth cheque was drafted using a faked Bank of Montreal template.
“Ladysmith is so small,” Brind said. “For me to see [five] of these in a week? We’ve got a problem.”
Each cheque is accompanied by a letter promising the recipient a chance to “mystery shop” stores like “Walmart, K-mart — which doesn’t even exist anymore—Home Depot, Sears, JC Penney, and Best Buy,” Brind said. “If you actually read it, it doesn’t make sense, but people see the cheque and think ‘Great!’”
Con artists instruct would-be victims to negotiate what portion of the cheque they will keep for themselves in exchange for their “mystery shopper” duties. Recipients then cash the cheque, retain their portion and forward the remainder to the supposed contractor via Western Union or some other money transfer service.
Scams of this type are common and play out according to various narratives. Some offer to connect the recipient to an inheritance from a deceased relative in a faraway land. Others are presented as a request for assistance from a wealthy, beleaguered businessman or ruler seeking to funnel money out of an African country.
Now, aspiring crooks are offering up secret-shopper opportunities en masse in hopes of catching the odd unsuspecting “client” unawares.
“Do you know how many people are falling for it?” Brind asked. “They need a reminder: If it sounds to good to be true, it is.”
Cheques bear the names of recipients and both the cheques and their accompanying letters are crafted with such a high degree of precision that they look authentic, Brind added. Cheques brought in to financial institutions in Ladysmith so far have been valued at between $3,500 and $4,000.
“I’ve got one individual who’s really taken a hit with this,” Brind said, “and I want it to be my last one.”
Brind encouraged future recipients of these cheques to bring them to their financial institutions where they will then be forwarded to the institution’s investigative branch.
Attempted fraud can also be reported to the CAFC via their website or by phone at 1-888-495-8501.