A Saskatchewan family’s vacation plans went downhill when they arrived for a skiing adventure in Manitoba and realized the accommodations they booked was a sham.
A scammer deceived the family into paying approximately $800 to rent a chalet for a week.
"They thought everything was set. They showed up to the chalet, and this person living there didn’t know anything about it," said Russell RCMP Cpl. Brett Church.
The police member said their detachment deals with about a half-dozen scam attempts a year in the communities they oversee, but this hoax is the first he has seen use rentals as bait.
The family from Glenavon, Sask., used online classifieds website Kijiji to post an advertisement stating they were seeking a place to stay while spending the week at Asessippi Ski Area and Resort last month.
They received a response from a person who claimed to own a chalet near the ski hill, showing off pictures inside the residence. Pleased, the family e-transferred roughly $800 to the seller.
The family only realized they were victims of fraud when they arrived at the chalet, with bags in tow.
Church explained the family reported the fraud to RCMP on Feb. 21 and eventually found different lodgings so they could enjoy their vacation as planned.
He added the scammer was not affiliated with Asessippi Ski Area and Resort in any capacity.
RCMP knows the bank account number but so far has not identified the swindler.
"It’s hard to track these bank accounts because we call these banks and they won’t tell us anything," Church said, "it’s all private."
Church explained the police are still investigating. He understands some banks offer insurance, which may recover money the family lost.
Since police have the fraudster’s bank account number, they can seek a warrant to identify the name of the fraudster, he explained.
Online fraud is concerning in the age of digital transactions, he adds, where sales occur without face-to-face interaction.
"Anybody could be a victim of this. It doesn’t have to be a chalet, it could be any item."
He cautioned people buying or renting products from online classified websites to do research on a seller, like asking for testimonials or contact information from people the person has done business with in the past, which can prevent grief in the long-term.
"I am really against non-face-to-face interactions," Church added, "especially when it comes to money."
The Better Business Bureau of Canada estimates Canadians lost $1.2 billion in scams in 2015, significantly higher than the $61 million loss that was actually reported.
The organization believes most victims are too ashamed to report their losses to the authorities.
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