Scammers using high school kids

Port Moody police say they have uncovered a rash of frauds preying upon young people in at least one city high school and likely occurring across the Tri-Cities.

And the persuasive fraudsters are getting away thousands of dollars richer while the teens are left in debt and holding the bag when the police swoop in.

According to Det. Jodi Gormick of PMPD’s major crime section, veteran scammers are recruiting high schoolers to obtain credit cards in their own names from several area stores that offer instant credit upon signing up. Using that instant credit, the teens then buy big-ticket items from the store and hand them over to the fraudster, believing they’ll be paid back handsomely once all the transactions are done.

According to Gormick, the youth will visit many stores in one day, maxing out their credit for the scam artist, who keeps the youth involved by allowing them to keep some of the items while promising a big payout in the end. Police say these scammers also instruct kids to commit other types of fraud, including depositing cheques from people they don’t know into their bank accounts via an ATM and then withdrawing the full amount right away and handing most or all of it over to the fraudster.

Once those cheques bounce a few days later, it’s the kids who are again on the hook for the money and for the fraudulent transactions.

“These fraudsters are pretty sophisticated, so they isolate themselves. So, honestly, from a police perspective, it’s the kids that we would arrest because they’re the ones committing the fraud,” Gormick said.

Regardless, police asking anyone who may have fallen victim or unwittingly helped to perpetrate one of these frauds to come forward as police are more interested in nabbing those at the top of the scam than the kids taken in by it.

Const. Luke van Winkel, a PMPD youth liaison officer, told The Tri-City News Thursday the department has sent notices to Coquitlam school board about the fraud.

“It’s going out to all of the schools in School District 43 advising them of it,” he said, adding that parents can also expect to be notified of the frauds by either an email from the school or a notice sent home with students.

Gormick said that this recent spate of frauds is a problem throughout the Lower Mainland, with those kids who have so far come forward representing just the tip of the iceberg.

“I think a lot of them still think their payday is coming,” she said, “or they’re just too embarrassed to come forward.”

Without getting into details, Gormick said there are ways police can prosecute adults who persuade kids to commit acts of fraud. But she noted that if someone legally takes out a credit card in their name, spends that credit on items and gives those items to another person because that person told them to, there isn’t much that police can do to hold the scammer accountable.

As always, Gormick said that if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.



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