Single mom loses thousands in call display 'spoofing' scam days before Christmas
TORONTO -- A Toronto woman was scammed of $3,000 just days before Christmas after receiving phone calls from people identifying themselves as officials with Service Canada and Toronto police.
Linda Karounos told CTV News Toronto that she received a phone call on Monday from someone claiming to be an officer at Service Canada. That person knew her social insurance number and told her dozens of bank accounts had been opened in her name. The officer then claimed police were looking at arresting her in the next 90 minutes.
The person on the phone said a police officer would be in touch.
Karounos then received a second phone call—the caller display showed “Toronto Police Service 14 division.” The person on the other line of the phone identified themselves as a police officer and asked Karounos questions about her actual banking practices.
“He says, ‘I believe you. In order to protect you, we are going to freeze your bank account’. He says ‘you must immediately go down to the bank and take some cash out of your Visa account’,” Karounos said.
Karounos then went to her bank and took out a $3,000 cash advance.
She said the person stayed on the phone with her and told her to go to a store on Wellington Street to deposit the money into a Bitcoin machine.
It wasn’t until she looked at the receipt, she said she realized she was a victim.
“Because it was the police, I really really felt that I had to cooperate, and it was really really important to do what they tell you, because you’re supposed to do what you're told,” she said.
"It’s been awful the last little bit. I know I’ve lost all this money. I’m literally working for free,” said Karounos.
Karounos is a single mother who works 12 hours a day, five days a week preparing food and washing dishes at a downtown restaurant.
“I don’t make that much money in a month, so it’s like doing this (work) for like a month, a month and a half, for nothing,” Karounos told CTV News Toronto Thursday.
“I have to try and make money for rent at the end of the month, and you know what rent is like in Toronto.”
Karounos' family has set up a GoFundMe campaign to help raise the funds she lost in the scam.
Toronto police looking into report of fraud
Toronto police said they have launched an investigation into a report of fraud.
“This fraud was similar to others where a call display had been spoofed to make the receiver believe the caller is legitimate,” said Const. Victor Kwong in a statement.
“Call display spoofing has become very easy … we have heard of government agencies and police departments displayed.”
Police said that if you believe a call is fraudulent or if you question the authenticity, hang up. Then wait for the line to completely disconnect and call the company or organization with a number you know is legitimate.
“Remember that no police service will make demands over a phone to transfer money. A real government agent would never take offence to someone asking to confirm the legitimacy of their call,” said Kwong.
Where did Karounos' money go?
The money that Karounos deposited was transferred into another Bitcoin account less than three hours later.
Online records show more than $170,000 USD has been transferred into the second account in just over two weeks, with most of the money transferred yet again to other accounts.
Other tips to protect yourself
Toronto police say people should never give out any personal information, including identification numbers, passwords or financial information. They also ask victims to report incidents fraud to police and the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.