It was about 7:30 a.m. last Tuesday when Dana MacLeod, 32, was awoken by a phone call. It was much earlier than the musician would normally start her day, and she was still quite groggy.
What followed was an elaborate high-pressure phone scam involving claims of identity theft, FBI and Burnaby RCMP investigations, the Canada Revenue Agency, and ultimately $1,500 lost to a bitcoin ATM in a Burnaby convenience store.
The man on the phone claimed to be calling from the Canada Revenue Agency. MacLeod quickly searched the Ontario number online and it checked out.
She was told that her identity had been stolen, and an abandoned blue Honda Civic that had been rented under her name had been found in Vancouver. The caller said that addresses associated with the rented car had been raided, and massive amounts of cocaine and 40 bank accounts registered in her name had been found.
"I was basically the lead suspect in a drug trafficking, money laundering situation with accounts in Mexico and Europe and the United States," said MacLeod on Monday.
'Identity theft happens'
She said the scammer said told her she was both a suspect and the victim of identity theft, and that she needed to take measures to protect herself.
She was told there was a warrant out for her arrest.
"I know it seems like an extraordinary story, but I thought 'OK, but this is possible.' Somebody could have taken my information and done this, because identity theft happens," said MacLeod, who had recently had her credit card compromised.
MacLeod was given an appointment time, name and number of a Burnaby RCMP officer. She searched the number and it matched the detachment's non-emergency line.
The scammer convinced her that she needed to secure money to live on, because the police would promptly seize her assets.
The man insisted that she not hang up the phone — or even put him on hold — while she made the trip to her bank and withdrew $1,500.
"I'm still in my pajamas; I'm barely awake," she said. "I'm terrified."
The man asked for her postal code, and directed her to the nearest bitcoin ATM at a convenience store. MacLeod said she was told it was some sort of digital security box that police and the CRA use in situations like this.
She was given a QR code to use to deposit the cash in the cryptocurrency machine.
'I realized it was a complete scam'
Once the directions had been followed and the dramatic call with the scammer ended, she called police to confirm the appointment. That's the moment everything became clear.
MacLeod was told nobody with the officer's name works with Burnaby RCMP.
"Immediately I was like, 'Oh my God this is not happening, this is not happening.' So I got in the car, I drove — I drove straight to the police station and I just totally broke down," said MacLeod. "I realized it was a complete scam."
"You feel sick and you can't believe you would fall for something like this," she said.
Hang up the phone
MacLeod said, in retrospect, it's easy to spot the major red flags. She said if she could do it again, she would have immediately hung up the phone and told the man she'd call back.
Police echo the lessons MacLeod has learned from her misadventure.
According to Cpl. Mike Kalanj with Burnaby RCMP, neither police, nor the CRA would ever use bitcoin or another cryptocurrency, so that's one way to tell it's absolutely a scam.
Kalanj said phone spoofing — faking the phone number you're actually calling from to make it look official — is becoming more and more rampant in scams, and it's hard to detect. He suggests calling the police, the CRA, or whoever the caller is claiming to be to be sure.
For MacLeod, the unfortunate episode left her feeling embarrassed that she had been fooled by the fraudster, but she said sharing her story might help prevent other people from falling victim to similar scams.
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