A New Brunswick woman has lost thousands of dollars in an elaborate internet scam, and it’s unlikely that those responsible will be caught.
The woman agreed to speak to Global News but requested that her identity be protected.
It all started in April, not long after she first connected to the internet.
“My computer froze and something flashed on it and it spoke to me and said you had to phone this number or whatever. So I did,” she said.
“It scared me, really. I didn’t know what to do so I called that number and this company … said they would fix it for a certain price.”
These sort of “denial-of-service scams are fairly common. But it doesn’t end there. Sometime later, a similar message with a different number popped up on her computer.
“They said the first company had scammed me. So they did get some of my money back for me. So that, now that I look back, they were building up trust,” she said.
She received a call late in the day on Nov. 3 explaining that her email had been used in a scam and that she had to pay the company to make things right. They asked her to buy gift cards and send them the codes.
Over the next week, she purchased about $11,000 in gift cards from different stores around her area. If she took too long to get the scammers the cards, they would call and harass her to be quicker.
On Nov. 12, she realized she had been caught in a scam and went to the RCMP.
WATCH: Top internet scams and how to protect yourself
The fake company is called Blaze Plexus and is complete with a convincing website. When Global News called the phone number listed on the website, it went straight to a message saying that the number is not set up to receive calls.
When described the situation, a spokesperson with the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre said that this particular scam sounds like “a new twist to traditional service scams and extortion scams.”
Service scams were reported 5,448 times in Canada in 2017 and cost Canadians $3,245,341.01. Extortion was the most highly reported form of scam with 14,551 reports covering $4,903,156.36.
The woman, who lives on a small pension, has drained most of her savings and is left with large credit card bills. When she contacted her credit card companies, one said there was nothing they could do because she bought the cards of her own free will. The other told her they are investigating.
“One credit card company said that there was nothing they could do about it. They did not even red-flag when I made large purchases at these stores because these were stores that I usually bought things at,” she said.
“But I never bought anything close to that amount of money before, so they should have red-flagged me.”
Rick Hancox, CEO of the Financial and Consumer Services Commission, says that victims rarely get their money back in these situations because the crimes are too hard to trace and investigate.
“The challenge of course … is we don’t know where these people are. They could be anywhere” he said.
“We don’t know where the money has gone. The whole notion of the Apple iTunes cards is how am I going to trace that? So in dealing with these kinds of things, the best protection, the best defence is prevention.”
Hancox says that seniors are one of the main targets for internet scams.
“Baby boomers are now moving into retirement age. Baby boomers grew up with RRSPs and retirement plans,” he said.
“So as they move that cohort, that sort of cohort of wealth is moving with them. Not every senior has lots of money, but that’s a nice target.”
Hancox says that there are a couple things people can watch out for to avoid being taken advantage of.
“The notion that a company would accept Apple iTunes cards as a method of payment, that should send rockets up as a warning flag,” he said.
“There on the spur of the moment, you’ve agreed to go and undertake that, whereas if you were to take a step back and say, ‘Does that make sense? … alarm bells should be going off.”