Red Deer RCMP are warning the public about a scam known as “assist to recover” linked to online extortion attempts where some local victims lost $80,000.
Police said they have received reports recently of criminals trying to extort victims who have reported the theft of their vehicles or other significant property on social media sites.
Local police recently investigated a significant fraud involving a time share in Mexico that also used this “assist to recover” ploy to defraud their victims.
A number of victims who posted information online about property that was stolen from them 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, said Red Deer RCMP Cpl. Karyn Kay.
“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.”
Police said that the sharing of information on social media regarding stolen vehicles and other property has been of great help to police as citizens who visit those pages frequently recognize and report stolen vehicles. This results 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.
The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre advises sellers of time shares to be suspicious of any organization that contacts you without an invitation.
If you are thinking of using the services of a timeshare resale company, check the Better Business Bureau website at bbb.org 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.
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. More information is available at online at antifraudcentre.ca.