By acting Victoria police chief Del Manak.
Throughout the month of March, VicPD is focused on two issues that have some of the greatest impacts in Victoria and Esquimalt: preventing fraud and distracted driving.
March is Fraud Prevention Month, and it couldn’t be more timely. Last year in Victoria alone, reported frauds over $5,000 cost citizens and businesses $1.6 million. The average loss for each of these frauds was $35,878. These types of frauds accounted for less than 10 per cent of the more than 470 fraud files that were reported to us. To put that in perspective, frauds cost Victoria and Esquimalt more than bank robberies each year, and they’re not going down. Reported frauds went up eight per cent from 2015 to 2016.
What is particularly frustrating about these types of crimes is that often by the time they are reported to us, there’s not much we can do to help recover losses. For two types of frauds that we commonly see — the “CRA scam” and the “romance scam” — the perpetrators are often overseas and are very difficult to bring to justice.
The CRA, or Canada Revenue Agency, scam is a telephone scam in which particularly aggressive callers inform potential victims that they owe back taxes, and often that their arrest is imminent. The callers are often well-informed about their victims, using online databases to tie potential victims to addresses. The combination of this information and the aggressive approach has taken in far too many victims. In 2016, a victim of this scam was berated over the phone for nearly eight hours, and lost over $13,000. Exhausted and upset after so long on the phone with the scammers, the victim didn’t question why the CRA demanded payment through iTunes gift cards. By the time it was reported to us, there was little we could do.
Romance scams may be the most lucrative scam in Canada. Often these scams prey on people who have gone through a major change in life, particularly those who have just lost a loved one. These scams slowly unfold over months as the scammer patiently lulls the victim into a false sense of security before striking.
While the scammer and potential victim often meet online through a reputable dating application or site, the scammer usually insists the conversation move to another mode of communication, such as text or email. The scammer often portrays him or herself as a Canadian living or working overseas. They rapidly move the relationship forward, and often send small gifts. After some time has passed, the scammers prime their target by making requests for small amounts of money. Then, they often report a “crisis” that requires a large amount of money to resolve. Some of these romance scammers go so far as to request money to travel to meet their victims, only to not show up. These scams leave behind both broken hearts and emptied bank accounts. The emotional impact is such that many victims don’t report their losses to family, friends or police.
Protecting family and friends is the impetus behind our partnership with ICBC and area police departments for distracted driving month. According to the National Safety Council, crashes are up 14 per cent in the last two years and much of that increase comes from distracted driving.
Distracted driving may seem harmless, but ICBC estimates 78 people are killed on B.C. roads each year as a result of distracted driving. When we conduct distracted driving enforcement and pull over these drivers, the danger is clear. Recently, one of our officers had to turn on lights and siren, honk the horn and then knock on the window of an offending distracted driver before he looked up from his phone. Our efforts to end this practice means that our traffic section, volunteers and community engagement division will continue to work together in order to get people off their electronic devices while driving.
If you are driving with an electronic device in hand, you face a $368 fine and four penalty points — for your first offence. Please always consider the safety of yourself and others while driving.