Ottawa woman loses retirement savings to online investment scam

Website and fake brochure made to resemble real Canada Life products

Ottawa woman loses retirement savings to online investment scam

Despite a surge in cybercrime, Deborah Klein believed the investment she bought online was guaranteed and safe.

As she goes through paperwork documenting a more than two-year record of her loss to an elaborate scam, Klein tells CTV News Ottawa, "To save that $100,000 it took working eight years, three days a week. To put to my retirement and now it’s gone."

She sought to invest some of her retirement funds in April 2021 to offset the expense of living. Thinking she discovered what she was looking for after doing a search online, Klein downloaded a comprehensive pamphlet and settled on a guaranteed investment certificate that promised a 3.13 percent return over a four-year period.

"This GIC came up for Canada Life," Klein said. "I didn’t know it was a fake brochure and they asked you to leave an email and your name and they will get in touch. They said you have to talk to an advisor, so I talked to an advisor and they said you have to prove who you are, prove that the money is not used for laundering, then the application contract and then they get you to do the wire."

According to her research, the company had recently acquired a company based in Ireland. She learned that the large-sum money transfer could have been fraudulent three weeks after she made it.

It turned out that Klein had been navigating a fake website that had been copied and made to resemble the real one the entire time – a problem many financial institutions are grappling with.

Technology analyst Carmi Levy said, "A spoof website … has the same logo as your bank or an insurance company or financial services organization that sells products, the graphics look spot on, the copy is professionally written, no errors."

A spokesman for Canada Life stated that the business is aware of the situation and is extremely saddened by the suffering it has brought about. "Our financial industry partners work closely with regulators and the authorities on these issues when they arise to protect consumers from becoming victims."

The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre recorded more over $500 million in losses in 2022, the bulk of which were related to financial investment fraud. "It’s devastating to see how much loss is occurring and how much funds are leaving Canada and being laundered overseas," OPP Det.-Const. John Armit said.

"We’re seeing with these investment scams where the fraudsters are using professional money mules and money launderers to move the funds out of Canada overseas, which makes it difficult for law enforcement to investigate and get the funds back."

Levy says that there are a few crucial signs to look out for to avoid falling victim to online fraud.

"The biggest mistake that people are making is that they are searching for things online then clicking those links … never Google search for financial products." Levy advised individuals to go directly to the website of the bank, insurance provider, or other financial services organization.

"Read it very carefully, look for any differences in letters, maybe an additional letter or so, or it isn’t the same domain, or they added something to the domain and then when you are messaging back and forth with these individuals look for the email addresses that they are using. Are these the email addresses from the domain of the institution? Criminals are raising their game; they are investing more and using increasingly sophisticated tools."