Overpayment scam strikes a chord with Vancouver music group

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WATCH: A Vancouver-based pop opera group was hired to play at a wedding, only to find out it was really a part of an "overpayment scam." Anne Drewa explains what that is, and the red flags the singers fortunately discovered, which saved them thousands of dollars.

A Vancouver-based music group has become the target of an overpayment scam that essentially tricks the victim into sending back extra money to a third party, usually in the form of a cheque, and leaving the victim in the lurch.

It happened to Melody Courage and Tiffany Desrosiers, two members of the pop-opera group Vivace. The singers were contacted online to perform at a wedding in Toronto, only to be left in the lurch.

“It’s pretty sociopathic that someone can play that game. It’s complete manipulation,” says Desrosiers.

Just before Christmas, Courage received an email request from a “Benson Graysons,” a groom looking for a band to play at his upcoming wedding in January. The correspondence continued and Vivace agreed to play at Berkeley Field House in Toronto. Melody emailed the groom a contract with the group’s cost at $7,500 and requested a 50 per cent deposit.

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Courage says, “he signed a contract from a Calgary address and provided a L.A. phone number which also wasn’t too much of a red flag because these days people can live anywhere.”

Soon after, Courage says the groom contacted her by phone and told her his financial officer would be sending Melody the deposit. The financial officer called immediately, telling Courage he had sent her a cheque for $26,800.

“I said, well that’s not the right amount. I said that’s wrong. He said he would email me with further instructions,” says Courage.

That call was followed immediately by another email, stating:

“I’m sorry to inform you that the payment was way higher than your total amount of $7,500 which will be deducted from the actual payment sent to you ($26,800.00). The balance of the payment is for the venue and catering company of the ceremony. You will be required to have the balance of the $19,300 forwarded to the Berkeley Events and Catering Inc. once you are in receipt of the payment.”

Courage says the alarm bells started ringing. She says, “it was a relationship I built with this person over a week, two phone calls, multiple emails, a legal contract signed and I was like, I’m being scammed.”

She was right. The girls traced the groom’s IP address to South Africa. Meanwhile, the cheque for $26,800 arrived and the bank told Desrosiers it was fraudulent.

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“Sure enough when you hold it up to the light, you can see through where the numbers have been edited,” she says.

The Better Business Bureau says this type of overpayment scam is not only brazen, it’s widespread. Spokesperson Evan Kelly says, “the big takeaway is don’t accept anything that is being overpaid because 90 per cent of the time it’s a scam.”

So how can you protect yourself? The Canadian Bankers Association says if you receive a cheque or money order that is more than the agreed amount of money, send it back to the original source. If you’ve already cashed the cheque, do not agree to repay the difference until that cheque has been cleared by the bank. Remember you are responsible for the items you deposit into your bank account.