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Vancouver Island senior's health suffers after losing life savings in scam

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A 76-year-old woman in the Comox Valley is sharing her heartbreaking story after being duped out of more than $100,000 in hopes she can prevent what’s happened to her from happening to anyone else.

“It started with a phone call from somebody claiming to be from Microsoft stating that my computer had been hacked and they could fix it,” says Peggy Christian.

She says their price started with $200, which she agreed to. Then the calls and requests for more money kept coming under new excuses and eventually a belief some of her money would be paid back.

“Any money I had in my savings account or my chequing account, they knew,” says Christian. “I was deathly afraid of what they could do, especially seeing as how they had gotten into everything. I gave them nothing.”

Christian says the scam started in mid-November and lasted until the first week of January, when she refused any further contact.

In that time, she says she was coerced into buying gift cards, contacting her financial advisor to withdraw investment funds, and making numerous wire transfers to Thailand from her bank. She claims multiple people were contacting her as part of the scam.

“I didn’t realize it until it was too late and I lost all my money,” says Christian.

Her family is sick over the loss and concerned about Christian’s mental and physical health as a result of the damage.

“I think the bank and the investment person should take some responsibility for this,” says Christian’s sister, Judy Huska. “She’s been at Coast Capital [Savings] for over 30 years and she never would have transferred in and taken out these huge amounts ever in that time so that should have been a red flag.”

In a statement, Coast Capital Savings says it has “robust” systems, procedures and policies in place to protect member accounts, which includes inquiring about unusual activity or red flags.

“Due to privacy, we cannot comment on individual situations, our members or their accounts. We do take these matters very seriously, investigating each case thoroughly,” says Coast Capital spokesperson Roanne Weyermars.

The most recent annual statistics ending December 31, 2023 at the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre list 41,111 victims of fraud and $554 million lost to it. It’s also believed the number of cases are under-reported.

“Scammers and fraudsters are incredibly skilled at what they do, so victims should not feel bad or embarrassed if they are deceived,” says Comox Valley RCMP Const. Monika Terragni. “It’s important to acknowledge that when someone (like Peggy) bravely comes forward after being scammed, she is potentially saving someone else from similar suffering and also promoting awareness.”

Recovering Christian’s lost funds might never happen, putting the senior’s housing situation at stake. Police say once money is sent overseas, investigations become incredibly complex, making it difficult to pursue the money, which is why they say prevention is key.

“A lot of these high-tech crimes have low-tech solutions,” says cybersecurity analyst and lawyer Ritesh Kotak.

When people are approached from someone claiming to be with the government or a tech company, Kotak recommends asking to reconnect later so you can do your own research first.

“At that moment, what you want to do is go online and find the legitimate customer service number or the legitimate government number and give them a call and say I received a phone call claiming to be an individual from your organization, is this correct? And if it is correct then go through the process,” says Kotak.

Christian has since reported the scam to RCMP and changed her banking and contact information.

“I don’t want this to happen to anybody else,” she says.

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