The Toronto police financial crimes unit is warning the public to be vigilant after five people were defrauded of $5.1 million in a telephone-based credit card scam.
Police said the scheme involves the victim receiving a phone call from someone posing as a retailer and alerting them that their credit card account has been compromised.
Investigators said the victim is then told to call 911, as well as their financial institution, to report the fraud but when they hang up, the person is unaware the caller is still on the line.
“The victim hangs up the phone and dials and they insist they’ve heard dial tones and believed they called 911,” Det. Sgt. Ian Nichol told reporters during a press conference Friday morning.
“I don’t want to speculate on the technical aspect of this but I will say in certain circumstances it is possible that if the call maker has not hung up the phone, one could be led to believe they are making an outgoing call when in fact they are still on the same line.”
Police said the victims are then led to believe they are speaking to authorities but in fact the original call was never disconnected.
Nichols said the victims in the case are being targeted on their landlines and not via cellphones.
LISTEN: Det. Sgt. Ian Nichol joins Arlene Bynon on 640 Toronto
“My understanding is the phone companies have varying features when it comes to hanging up and disconnecting,” Nichol said.
“I’ve heard numbers ranging from 13 seconds to 25 seconds. I don’t want to commit to any of those because I’m not sure if there are some others that would take longer.”
After the telephone call is made to police, the victims are then told to go to their banking institution to transfer funds into a different account which is supposedly intended to safeguard their funds, investigators said.
“They are persuaded there is an ongoing bank investigation involving a complicit employee, this is again a fabrication, but that is what they are persuaded,” Nichol said.
“They will keep the calls ongoing for several days and I believe the reason for doing so is to ensure no efforts are made to recover the money as it’s being withdrawn from wherever it’s been sent to.”
Investigators said there is evidence that the scheme is operating across Canada and that hundreds of thousands of people have already been targeted.
The calls, which police said have been going on for the past four months, have a “foreign component” to them but authorities would not reveal where they were originating from.
“We definitely want to make the public aware that this is occurring and hopefully we can prevent further victimization and we’re obviously hoping that people who have already been victimized by this and haven’t reported it, will come forward,” Nichol said.
Police are reminding the public to make financial inquiries in person at a bank and to avoid giving out personal information over the telephone.
Authorities also said banks will never advise someone to transfer funds to external accounts for security reasons. People who suspect they have received a questionable phone call should either hang up or make sure their claims or truthful.
Anyone with information about this case is asked to contact police at 416-808-7300 or Crime Stoppers anonymously at 416-222-TIPS.