An Edmonton woman is baffled and concerned for her security after her identity was stolen and used to purchase a vehicle worth more than $100,000 in a province she has never been to.
The purchase did not raise any red flags at either the bank or the dealership involved, and now there are questions about checks and balances when it comes to making high-value purchases.
Mola Johnson said she had no idea anyone had used her identity or personal information until she requested her credit history by chance last fall.
“When I received the report from Equifax, I noted that there is an unusual transaction, I guess I would call it, on there – $106,000 – which I not aware of,” she said.
The Equifax report, reviewed by Global News, reveals a credit check was done on Sept. 15, 2018 at a Jaguar dealership in Langley, B.C.; Johnson said she has never been to B.C.
“I was paranoid…I wasn’t aware of it. I was lost,” she said.
Johnson said she then received a letter from Scotiabank, where she does not have a bank account, congratulating her on her vehicle purchase followed by paperwork, also from the bank, regarding a loan worth more than $100,000.
She went to Edmonton police after that to file a police report. It isn’t exactly clear how her personal information was obtained and how it was used to make identification.
“It wasn’t me who purchased the vehicle and it was wasn’t me who went to borrow the loan,” she said.
Edmonton police confirmed they opened a file on the case and forwarded it to police in Langley.
Cpl. Holly Largy with Langley RCMP said no suspect has yet been identified.
“No action has been taken against the dealership. They are a victim in this investigation as well. They are out the Range Rover,” Cpl. Largy said.
Johnson said the situation has left her feeling overwhelmed.
“Every time I see a different piece of mail coming to say that you owe this much money… it’s actually giving me anxiety,” she said.
“It actually blew my mind.”
Incidents not rare
Numbers from the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre show there were 1,117 reports of fraud in Alberta in 2018, down from 2017 when there were 1,221 cases in the province. However, the dollar loss related to those incidents of fraud was higher in 2018 — $1,736,738.22 compared to $1,315,037.38 in 2017.
Though the centre did not have specific numbers on identity fraud involving vehicle purchases, Jessica Gunson, acting intake unit manager, said incidents like Johnson’s are not unique.
“Sometimes we have someone that will be reporting there’s a false application for a credit card or cell phone and the company or the organizations alerted them to that. In other cases, we’ve had some large dollar loss victims where mortgages, lines of credit, vehicles ,” she said.
“It really comes down to: how readily available is your information? Where is it? And are consumers taking the right steps to ensure they don’t get into a situation like this?”
Kevin Kullar, the general manager of Jaguar Land Rover Langley, said the dealership is taking the incident “very seriously.”
“Despite our company’s strict anti-fraud policies, a 2018 Range Rover Sport was fraudulently financed from our dealership through a Scotiabank loan. As with all transactions, we are consistently compliant with all provincial regulations and lending institutions, and actively monitor our processes and procedures to ensure all our employees are adhering to the rigid procedures in place,” Kullar said in a statement.
“In this case, our employee followed all required procedures to collect what appeared to be valid information under the B.C. Motor Vehicle Sales Authority. In addition, all information required by the lending institution to facilitate a finance agreement was also collected and approved by Scotiabank.”
Kullar did not respond to follow-up questions regarding whether its processes and procedures will now be under review following this incident. Langley RCMP said the dealership has been cooperative.
Response from Scotiabank
Johnson said it has been difficult to rectify the situation at Scotiabank, adding she has tried several times to clear things up with the loan department only to be told information she provided at a physical branch has not been passed along.
In a statement to Global News, Jessica Hooker, senior manager of communications for Scotiabank, said the bank takes issues of fraud and identity theft “seriously.”
“The number and sophistication level of fraud attempts has increased globally. No financial institution is immune to these threats and we work closely with the authorities to identify and report fraudulent activity to protect our customers and other consumers,” the statement reads.
“Scotiabank has strong internal controls and processes in place, and continually invests in people, processes and technology to improve preventive and detective measures.”
Specific questions regarding the process to obtain a high-level loan and the procedures to confirm an individual’s identity before obtaining a loan were not answered. Additional questions regarding Johnson’s case and what specifically happened were also left unanswered.
The bank said it has launched an investigation into Johnson’s case.
Following inquiries from Global News, Johnson said she received a phone call from a representative of the president of Scotiabank apologizing for what happened. She said she was told the bank would not let anything happen to her credit and offered additional protection for an account for five years.
WATCH BELOW (Dec. 12, 2018): In just five years, fraud and identity theft reported to Edmonton police have jumped 89 per cent. What’s different about these scams is how fraudsters are stealing money. Kendra Slugoski reports.
It is unclear whether any organization or institution can or will be held accountable in this case.
“In my experience here, we’ve never had a consumer come back and say, ‘Well, I’m having to pay this,” said Gunson, from the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.
“There’s processes we give victims of identity fraud and identity theft. There’s a whole guide online called the RCMP Victim Assistance Guide, so it gives them all the steps of what organizations they need to call, where they need to place a fraud alert, what they can do moving forward to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
Questions to both the dealership and Scotiabank regarding whether any employee would be held responsible went unanswered.
Johnson said she has concerns about her credit history as a result of her identity fraud.
“I don’t know exactly where I stand. I just know that I can’t get anything right now, even in an emergency situation, because is giving me a bad credit since I’m not paying the money that needs to be paid,” she said.
Johnson said she is used to shredding her mail to protect her personal information; she is taking steps to further protect herself.
“I have called Equifax, I have called TransUnion for them to put a protection on my credit. My bills, I have changed them from mail to mostly emails. I’m trying to be more vigilant of what’s going on around me when I receive my mail,” she said.
In respect to long-term implications for victims like Johnson, Gunson, from the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, said victims are typically not held responsible in cases of fraud but there may be long-term implications.
“Where it can throw your life in a bit of a tailspin, if you are in the process of say buying a home and you have an identity theft or an identity fraud that’s taken place, there might be some extra loopholes, extra hoops you have to go through to verify it is you making that purchase,” Gunson said.
The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre recommends placing a flag or fraud alert at financial institutions if you believe you are a victim of fraud, locking your mailbox, shredding personal documents and being aware of phishing emails. It also recommends getting a copy of your credit history.
“Consumers need to look at their personal information and treat it like cash, so it has a value,” Gunson said.
If you think you or someone you know has been a victim of fraud, please contact the Canadian Anti‐Fraud Centre at 1‐888‐495‐8501 or report online at http://www.antifraudcentre.ca
Have a tip about this story? Or a story you think should be investigated? Email reporter Julia Wong at firstname.lastname@example.org
© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.