Halifax woman with cognitive impairment loses $5K in phone scam

Emma Mann likes her independence. She lives in her Halifax apartment with her cat, Anthony, and gets herself to her part-time job at a local grocery store.

But last week that independence was threatened when scammers drained $5,200 from her bank account.

"I'm angry, sad," Mann said in a recent interview. "Embarrassed that I can't pay my bills."

Mann has Gorlin syndrome, a rare hereditary disorder that comes with a high risk of developing skin and brain cancer. By the age of two, Emma had two tumours removed from her brain and grew up with a cognitive impairment.

In many ways, Mann is a typical 31-year-old, and in other ways, she's more like a 10-year-old, said her mother, Tracie Mann.

"She's used to doing what she wants, right? Getting on the bus and going shopping, doing fun things, and now they've emptied her bank account," she said.

Emma and her mother Tracie look at all the gift cards she was tricked into purchasing by phone scam.
Emma Mann's mother, Tracie Mann, right, said her daughter wants to help protect other people with disabilities who may fall victim to similar scams. (Rob Killorn/CBC)

Tracie Mann said someone pretending to work at her daughter's bank, Scotiabank, called last Monday to report there were fraudulent charges on her account.

Emma Mann spent six hours running around the city spending thousands of dollars on different gift cards because she was told that would fix the problem.

It's an increasingly common scam where fraudsters get their victims to buy a gift card and provide them with the activation code. Soon, the money on the card is gone and the scammers can no longer be reached.

Mann said she was scared when the people claiming to help called her over and over, giving orders.

"They made me feel like they were confident, like they were really Scotiabank," she said.

Scotiabank said later in a statement it has since fully reimbursed Mann of the money she lost due to the scam.

Professional criminals

What's known as the bank investigator scam is one of the most lucrative fraud schemes in the country, according to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.

This particular scam led to Canadians losing more than $11 million last year alone, a spokesperson said.

"This type of fraud typically starts off as an automated phone call or a robocall advising the target or the victim that there has been a couple of fraudulent transactions on their bank account or credit card or even their Amazon account," said Jeff Horncastle.

He said unfortunately he isn't surprised a scammer was able to convince Mann they were a bank employee trying to help her out.

"For the most part, these are professional criminals, right? This is what they do as their job," Horncastle said.

Overall, Canadians lost $570 million to all scams last year, Horncastle said. He said in reality that number is significantly higher as only five to 10 per cent of victims report being scammed.

Tracie Mann said her daughter wants to protect others from falling victim to the same scam.

"She's hoping to bring some awareness to young people with disabilities. To say, 'This can happen, and it can change your life really fast.'"