West African fraud reaches Quebec City mailbox, attracts RCMP attention

There was something unusual about the letter Garry and Barbara Jack received Monday morning. The letter, accompanied by a provincial government cheque made out in Garry Jack’s name for $1,750, seemed too good to be true. It was. The Jacks are one of the latest households to be targeted by a widespread West African mail fraud scheme, in which the culprits pretend to be representatives of the French television game show Le Banquier, on TVA.

“Right away it seemed fishy,” Barbara Jack said.

Upon opening the plain white envelope with no return address, Jack looked immediately at the cheque. Finances Québec, the provincial government ministry, had supposedly issued the cheque.

“The cheque looked quite legitimate but I asked myself what Finances Québec has to do with a game show?” A call to her daughter, who did some Internet research, confirmed the letter was a fraud.

“Often the cheques look really real because they are either stolen or counterfeited,” explained RCMP spokesperson Sergeant Luc Bessette.

In this case, the letter accompanying the cheque instructs the potential victim that he or she has been chosen at random to appear on the television game show Le Banquier, with the promise of winning  500,000. A cheque for $1,750 is offered to pay for the game show’s registration fees.

Bessette said the case is a textbook West African fraud. A letter instructs the potential fraud victim to act quickly, deposit the cheque and to wire the same amount of money to a non-existent company to pay for a contest’s or lottery’s registration fees.

“By the time the cheque bounces, the victim has already wired the money,” Bessette said.

Although initially based in West Africa, Bessette said many homegrown fraud schemes of the same kind now exist in Canada.

“What hurts” about the fraud, according to Bessette, is that the victim is legally responsible for his or her bank payments. If the fraudster is caught, his or her victim must take them to civil court to recuperate any of the money lost.

Despite not having been duped, that’s what prompted Jack to call the RCMP. “I just thought what if some poor soul deposits the cheque, spends the money, and is out $1,750.”

If you believe you are a victim of mass marketing fraud, the RCMP has a hotline available:  1-800-771-5401.