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Drowning in debt, Alberta fraud victim warns some deals ‘too good to be true’

An Alberta man is warning others to listen to their gut after he says he lost $50,000 to a man recently charged with fraud in Edmonton.
An Alberta man is warning others to listen to their gut after he says he lost $50,000 to a man recently charged with fraud in Edmonton. File / Global News

An Alberta man teetering on the edge of bankruptcy is warning others against fraudsters like the one he says took him for thousands of dollars.

Edmonton police said about 12 people have complained about the same man, Brian Desmond Penney, who’s facing one count of fraud over $5,000. When police announced his arrest earlier this month, they said they believe there are more victims and invited them to come forward.

READ MORE: Edmonton police looking for more possible victims in relation to allegedly fraudulent business deal

“When I saw his face on Global News, I almost turned inside out,” said the man, who 630 CHED is calling Lawrence to protect his identity. “I didn’t want to see the man, but I was also happy that someone finally put him in his place.”

Edmonton police are looking for more possible complainants after Brian Penney was charged with fraud. Supplied: Edmonton Police Service

Lawrence said he previously complained to police about Penney after a business deal went bad in October 2017.

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READ MORE: Former Alberta CFO charged with defrauding agri-business group $2.5M

He said Penney suggested the pair buy a steel brake machine using $50,000 of Lawrence’s money. But the machine never materialized.

“The truck didn’t show up with the machine and I was like, ‘OK, I am a total idiot here,'” Lawrence said. “But he had my $50,000 so I didn’t want to yell at the guy too much.”

READ MORE: 11 romance scams in Edmonton led to $1.1M lost to fraudsters in 2018

Lawrence said Penney started to avoid him, making excuses for why the two couldn’t get together to discuss the deal. After seven months of hounding, Penney started to slowly pay Lawrence back. But it was never enough to pay off the credit card he used for the initial investment.

“Right now I’m slowly, slowly debating whether I should go bankrupt,” Lawrence said. “I’m taking some VISA money from another VISA to pay off this VISA.

Det. Linda Herczeg of the city police economic crimes unit said some of the complaints against Penney are from as far away as Vancouver and Dawson Creek, B.C.

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She couldn’t say whether more charges would be laid, as police are still investigating.

“[Penney] has a history of this type of fraud. He’s very savvy, he’s very convincing, he does very high-pressure sales and he’s very manipulative.”

READ MORE: Airdrie woman charged with fraud after buying cars, furniture

According to court documents, Penney has charges dating back to 1998. Most recently, he was found guilty of fraud over $5,000 and was sentenced to two years in jail and ordered to pay $6,000 in restitution in 2009.

Penney is expected to be back in court to answer to the most recent charge on Friday.

Avoiding fraud

Herczeg said the best way to avoid becoming a victim of fraud is to do your research.

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When approached with an investment opportunity, make note of what’s on offer, get the person’s name and the name of their business, then do an internet search. If it’s fraudulent, there is a good chance there will already be evidence online that the person has tried the same scheme before.

WATCH BELOW: (March 6) A police officer and a fraud prevention expert join Global News Morning Calgary to discuss Canadians’ vulnerability in being able to detect fraud and some tips to avoid getting scammed.

Click to play video: 'Fraud prevention month' Fraud prevention month
Fraud prevention month – Mar 6, 2019

Make sure there’s a paper trail for any deal, she added.

“If you don’t have it written down on paper and you don’t have signatures attached to it, don’t go into a verbal agreement for a business contract. Ever.”

Finally, listen to your instincts.

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“We all want to make a profit and we all want to make money, but we really need people to take a step back. Take all the information in and [if they say] ‘You have to do it right now and you’re going to lose the deal if you don’t sign your life away at that particular point in time,’ I’m going to tell you right now, probably 85 per cent of the time it’s going to be a fraud.

“Almost every time I talk to a complainant they say, ‘My gut told me I shouldn’t be doing this. I knew it was wrong.'”

Lawrence said he wishes he had been more careful.

“If it’s too good to be true, it’s too good.”

WATCH BELOW: March is Fraud Prevention Month. The Alberta Securities Commission has developed the board game “Kajillionaire” to teach people about fraud and ways to ensure you don’t become the next victim.

Click to play video: 'A new board game is helping ensure people don’t fall victim to fraud' A new board game is helping ensure people don’t fall victim to fraud
A new board game is helping ensure people don’t fall victim to fraud – Mar 15, 2019

More tips to avoid fraud can be found on the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre’s website, or on the EPS website.

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None of the recent allegations against Penney has been proven in court.

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