B.C. rock band targeted by 'birthday song' scam narrowly avoids losing $1,000

A scammer claimed her daughter was a big fan of Fernie, B.C.-based Mount Rushka, and asked them to write a song for her.  (Jamie Inman - image credit)
A scammer claimed her daughter was a big fan of Fernie, B.C.-based Mount Rushka, and asked them to write a song for her. (Jamie Inman - image credit)

An online scam targeting a rock band based in Fernie, B.C., almost cost the musicians $1,000, and now they're warning others hoping they can avoid a similar situation.

Mount Rushka vocalist Adam Laurin said a woman named Sandra from Toronto contacted the band, claiming her daughter Jasmine was a huge fan, and asked if she could pay them to write a song for her birthday.

"This mom, who seemed totally legit, had a profile with followers, had photos of her family," Laurin told CBC's On The Coast guest host Belle Puri.

"Being a new band, we obviously want to dress to impress and we loved that they loved our music so we got together and talked about it and said this shouldn't be too difficult to do. Let's do this for Jasmine."

Laurin said Sandra sent information about her daughter — favourite TV shows, her cat's name, her love of mermaids and more. The band wrote the song and recorded a video of them singing it.

"Everything seemed pretty normal," Laurin said.

But then, things took a strange turn.

WATCH | Adam Laurin describes how the scam unfolded:

The band sent the song to Sandra, who had originally agreed to pay them $300 for their work. She told them she was so impressed, she wanted to send $500.

Rather than sending an e-transfer, Sandra she had her "secretary" send a photo of a cheque from a business — for $1,500.

Bassist Alanna Laurin, who is Adam Laurin's wife, deposited the cheque using her bank's online photo deposit function, but remained in contact with Sandra, who claimed the secretary had messed up the amount.

Meanwhile, Laurin looked up the business whose details were on the cheque, and learned it likely didn't exist.

"The address didn't match and, you know, red flags everywhere, and it looks quite photoshopped."

The band contacted the bank to let them know. Then, Sandra asked them to send the "overpaid" $1,000 back to her. Luckily, they didn't.

However, while the band didn't lose any money, it did put time and effort into writing and recording the song.

"Why would someone go to the ends of the Earth to have a band write and prepare and record a song for an imaginary person?" Laurin wondered.

"It was also just really heartbreaking for Alanna and myself that someone would be out there doing this."

He said they filed a report with the RCMP and started sharing their story, hoping others wouldn't fall victim to a similar scam.

Advice for avoiding scams

According to the B.C. RCMP's website, anyone offering goods or services online is at risk of a scam like the one Mount Rushka experienced.

Typically, the fraudster will say they made a mistake and ask that the balance be returned to them.

In the worst case scenario, the victim doesn't realize the cheque is forged and sends the "overpaid" amount.

Anyone who places an ad online is advised not to accept payment for higher than the asking price.

Police say certified cheques, traveller's cheques, gift cheques and money orders can all be fraudulent. Canada Post Money Orders have security features, including beaver-shaped watermarks, and a limit of $999.99.

Fraudulent cheques should be reported to the police, the RCMP says.