Fraudsters posing as bank agents, 9-1-1 dispatchers and even police have bilked five Toronto victims out of a combined $5.1 million over the past four months, relying on a quirk in landline phone technology to pull off the scam.

Det. Sgt. Ian Nichol says that starting in November, victims started coming forward with a story that started with a phone call from a retailer like a jewelry store or a gas station.

Nichol said the victim in each instance is told a fraud against their credit card is underway.

The suspect on the phone then urges the victim to call police and their bank.

“The victim may hang up and do so, while being unaware that original caller has not hung up on the other end,” Nichol said. “The victim believes they’ve contacted police via 911 or their bank, but in fact they’ve been redirected to an imposter who is posing as a 911 dispatcher or a bank employee.”

Nichol said the victim is then surreptitiously redirected again to another imposter who claims to be a police detective or a bank fraud investigator.

In each instance the imposter posing as bank fraud investigator urges the victim to withdraw their assets in the bank and wire them to a “safe” location while some sort of internal corporate probe into the “fraud” impacting their credit card is complete.

“There’s an effort to persuade the victim to secrecy,” Nichol said, adding sometimes an imposter suggests that other corrupt workers at the bank are the ones perpetrating the fraud.

The victim then wires their money to an account provided to them by the fraudsters and does not hear anything more after a few days.

Nichol says the scheme is peculiar in the sense that it targets owners of landline telephones and not cell phone users.

Investigators believe that the victim is vulnerable to be redirected if they dial police or their bank within 10 to 30 seconds of initially being contacted by the fraudster.

“Over five people, ($5.1 million) is a significant amount of money so I imagine that’s impacted them adversely,” Nichol said.

Police do not yet have suspect descriptions or other identifying information. Nichol said the Toronto frauds involved a “foreign” element but would not say where it originates.

He did say several U.S. law enforcement agencies are cooperating with Toronto police in the investigation.

Nichol described the victims as bright, well-educated people.

“They’re all on the ball, they’re not what you’d consider vulnerable so I imagine the pitch is very good.”

He said that even if they locate those responsible, the likelihood of restitution or recovery of money stolen is very small.

“Recovery is usually not realistic in these situations.”