Red Deer, Alberta – Red Deer RCMP have received a number of reports recently of criminals trying to extort victims who have reported the theft of their vehicles or other significant property on social media sites; RCMP in Red Deer recently investigated a significant fraud involving a time share in Mexico that also used this “assist to recover” ploy to defraud their victims.
In recent weeks, a number of victims who posted information online about property that was stolen from them have reported being contacted by unknown persons who claimed to be in possession of the property and requested payment for its safe return.
“This type of attempted extortion is a double blow to someone who has had their vehicle or other valuables stolen, and RCMP strongly advise victims not to send money,” says Corporal Karyn Kay of the Red Deer RCMP. “Criminals are opportunistic, and you have no idea if they have your property or if they’ve just learned enough details about it online to sound convincing.”
The sharing of information on social media regarding stolen vehicles and other property has been of great help to police; citizens who visit those pages frequently recognize and report stolen vehicles, resulting in arrests, criminal charges and the return of stolen property to its rightful owners. The rise of these extortion tactics, however, is a reminder that criminals are looking at the same sites in search of potential victims.
“These extortion requests have sometimes been an offer to meet and exchange cash for the property. More often, the criminal requests an untraceable money transfer and promises to disclose the location of the vehicle once they get the money,” says Kay. “Either way, we advise citizens not to engage, and to report these extortion demands to police.”
Red Deer RCMP also recently saw the reappearance of a time share fraud they warned the public about last year that targets people who own time shares in Mexico – and this time, the scam also used the “assist to recover” ploy.
Time share scammers approach owners of time shares with promises that they have a buyer, or offers to help the seller find one. The scammers may claim to represent a legitimate business, and may have a second person call the victim, pretending to be a lawyer for that business. Victims are presented with legal-looking paperwork and asked for up-front fees to cover closing costs, taxes, maintenance and other fees.
The most recent Red Deer incident was reported to RCMP in May. The victims lost approximately $80,000 after the scammers victimized them initially, then had a different set of scammers follow up later, claiming they would help the victims recover their losses.
Unfortunately, the time share scam originates in Mexico, and once the victim’s money has been transferred out of the country, there is little RCMP can do to pursue the scammers.
The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre advises sellers of time shares to be suspicious of any organization that:
- contacts you without an invitation, for example by cold calling
- asks you for any kind of up-front payment, for example a deposit or administration fee: a legitimate broker will not cold call you or charge an upfront fee
- says they have a buyer waiting to buy your timeshare
- asks you to send them your Ownership Certificate
- puts a lot of pressure on you to make a decision quickly
- asks for your credit card details but tells you they won’t take any payment
- asks for any personal information, for example your bank details or address
If you are thinking of using the services of a timeshare resale company, check the Better Business Bureau for any complaints that may have been registered against the company. Do not do business with the company if there are grievances filed against it.
Search online to find out more about the company you’re dealing with. Timeshare owners who have previously been scammed will often post their experiences and warnings about scammers online.
The best protection from scammers is to learn how to resist being pushed into a decision regardless of how persuasive or aggressive the scammer may be. Arm yourself and the vulnerable people in your life by learning how to recognize and protect yourself from fraud.
– 30 –
Cpl. Karyn Kay
Red Deer RCMP