A B.C. photographer is out thousands of dollars after falling victim to a scam that has cost its victims millions of dollars.
“I’ve had my business going for three years with many ups and downs and this is by far the biggest down point that I’ve had,” said Esther Moerman.
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The Langley resident said someone approached her via text asking about her wedding photography services.
The fraudster claimed his daughter was getting married in Vancouver.
After exchanging several emails back and forth, Moerman requested a down payment of $700 and a signed contract.
“It all looked good,” Moerman said.
The photographer was personally mailed a cheque in the amount of $5,500 — far more than her actual rate.
The scammer told Moerman it was an accounting error and requested that she send the remaining funds to a third party — the wedding caterer.
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Moerman agreed and did a mobile deposit through her bank — TD Canada.
“It showed the $5,500 in the green in my account and I was like, OK, this seems all right and then I go ahead and send the money over,” she said.
Within days, however, the cheque bounced and was determined to be fraudulent.
She was left on the hook for thousands of dollars.
Moerman is the victim of the overpayment, or overspending scam.
The scam sees a fraudster pay for a service or product and send a cheque to the unsuspecting victim for more than the amount owed.
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Once the cheque is deemed fraudulent, the victim is left owing the bank, while the scammer has conveniently disappeared.
The scam has cost victims close to $5 million this year, according to the Better Business Bureau (BBB).
Consumer Matters reached out to TD Canada on Moerman’s behalf asking whether it’s the bank’s normal practice to credit an account immediately before a cheque is cleared.
TD would not discuss Moerman’s case because of privacy reasons, but told Consumer Matters in a statement:
“Providing immediate access to funds from a cheque is a credit decision that is applied differently for each customer based on a variety of factors including credit history, the length of time a customer has banked with us and the current status of a customer’s existing accounts. Funds are available to a customer’s account once the hold is lifted, however a cheque may still be returned if it is determined to be fraudulent.”
TD Canada also referred Consumer Matters to TD’s Hold Funds Policy.
However, Claudiu Popa, a certified cybersecurity expert and author of the Canadian Cyberfraud Handbook, said banks need to do more to protect consumers.
“I always say convenience is the opposite or the enemy of security,” Popa said.
“So, any time you try and make a financial process or any sort of sensitive transaction simpler, the risk goes up and along with that risk should come public education and I think banks should do a lot more to educate the public, especially when using mobile technologies.”
Moerman says TD credited her $900 as a goodwill gesture — an amount that was never sent to the fraudster.
She still owes the bank $4,600.
“To be taken advantage like this was a really low point for me,” Moerman said.
The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre recommends that people protect themselves protect yourself by knowing who you are doing business with and never accept a cheque for more than your selling price, when it comes to the overpayment scam.
The BBB also warns that a legitimate company will never ask someone to forward money.