Vancouver Island woman urges caution after being defrauded $95K
A Nanaimo woman is warning others to be careful of who you share your personal information with after she was defrauded of $95,000 six months ago.
Jennifer Hiltz says she first learned of the fraud after Prefera Finance called her at work about an overdue payment on a $50,000 loan for two Sea-Doos.
"I've never even been on a Sea-Doo. I didn't take out the loans. It's very out of character for me, too, if you look at my credit history," she said.
"They're not my loans. So I'm not going to pay them a penny."
She is only now regaining financial control, with some, but not all, of the loans being wiped from her TransUnion credit report.
She says that the fraudster was someone she trusted and thought she knew.
Hiltz says the person first approached her at the food cart she had been running for a few years. They bonded over the fact that they had both recently moved to Nanaimo and had kids the same age.
Over the summer, she says the individual kept suggesting she sign up as a driver for Skip The Dishes to supplement her income. He told her he could refer her and offered to split the $50 referral reward.
When she ran into difficulties uploading her driver's licence to the business's online portal, Hiltz says her friend offered to scan it for her.
That's all it took.
It's easy to become a victim of fraud
Nanaimo RCMP spokesperson Gary O'Brien said it's, shockingly, that easy to become a victim of fraud.
"They've got her picture. You can put it on a credit card or a fake ID.
"The fraudster went into a bank or some other lending institution. They got the money, and guess what? Boom. Line of credit in her name."
Since October, two loan companies, including Prefera, and a falsified merchant service bank account — which enables a business to accept debit and credit cards and other contactless payments — have contacted her for loan repayments that total $95,000.
A bailiff was even sent to her place of work to repo the Sea-Doos, which she doesn't have.
Based on her interactions with the person, she suspects the fraud occurred in late August of last year.
She's gathered a file folder worth of evidence for her case, such as loan statements with incorrect information and void checks from RBC, whom she does not bank with. Despite her sleuthing, she says it's still proving difficult to clear her name.
According to Rosalind Scott, the president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau serving Vancouver Island, this type of fraud is all too common.
Prevention is key — once the fraud has been committed, Scott says it's too late. Especially when there is a pre-existing relationship with the fraudster. It can become a he-said-she-said situation, and it becomes difficult to prove that a fraud has been committed.
"Very sadly, we do see this, and the person may have been a willing participant without being a willing participant," said Scott.
"These types of cases break your heart. It's difficult for banks or loan companies to intervene after the fact, which is why we tell people to be safe with their information, no matter how close you are to someone."
Hiltz says she still wants to see the fraudster brought to justice for what has happened to her. She's been encouraged to pursue a civil case as the criminal case spans multiple jurisdictions.
The $95,000 in loans that were taken out under her name were from companies in both Alberta and Ontario, and she's been told a criminal case could take some time with police having to co-ordinate across provinces.
Scott says it's not uncommon for criminal investigations into fraud to be lengthy due to the difficulty providing proof when there was a pre-existing friendship.
Hiltz says that as a single mom, she just doesn't have the time or finances to pursue a civil case.
"It's been emotional. I want justice for whoever did this to me.
"That's the biggest thing — when someone befriends you just to take advantage of you and use your credit for their own personal gain. That's been the most hurtful thing for me."