Fraud allegations around Mitch Marner shirt raise questions about sports memorabilia

toronto

By

Allegations of fraud and “dishonourable conduct” now being levelled against the Canadian Hockey League’s 2016 Memorial Cup champion London Knights raise new questions about the authenticity of high-priced sports memorabilia.

Scott Galbraith, an avid hockey jersey collector from London, Ont., is claiming, in a civil statement of claim, that he paid nearly $4,000 for a Knights jersey used in a game and was handed a fake.

The jersey was advertised to be have been worn last season by first-round Toronto Maple Leaf draftee and 2016 winner of the Ontario Hockey League’s most outstanding player award, Mitchell Marner.

“Within two seconds, I knew that it wasn’t real,” Galbraith said in an exclusive interview with the Star. “I’ve been collecting these things for a long time. This jersey was brand new.”

The jersey as displayed on the auction site.
The jersey as displayed on the auction site.

By “knowingly” passing off a “false letter of authenticity” as authentic and “fabricating a fake game-worn jersey,” the Knights committed “fraud, bad faith, high-handed, disreputable and dishonourable conduct,” reads the statement of claim filed in a London courthouse Tuesday and obtained by the Toronto Star.

The $100,000-claim includes $80,000 for aggravated and punitive damages, and, in addition to the London Knights, names the Canadian Hockey League, which hosted the online jersey auction, and the Hockey Hall of Fame, which received a donated jersey from the Knights that Galbraith believes is his.

The allegations have not been proven in court and no statements of defence have yet been filed.

Trevor Whiffen, governor of the London Knights, said the club honoured its commitment to Galbraith, insisting the sweater was, indeed, worn by Marner during the team’s regular season last year.

“We said we’d give him a game-worn sweater. He was given a game-worn sweater,” he said in an interview.

When Galbraith complained initially to the team, team officials offered him a refund, Whiffen said.

“We’ve tried to do everything we can to pacify a long-time Knights fan. We said if you’re not satisfied, we’ll refund your money. He didn’t want that.”

Gene Chiarello, Galbraith’s London lawyer — he was a Knights player, himself, in the 1990s — says the jersey provides compelling evidence to refute the club’s claim of authenticity.

According to the statement of claim, “the jersey issued to him was brand new and never worn in any games during the regular season, play-offs, or the Memorial Cup tournament, nor was it the jersey posted in photographs on the CHL auction website.”

Chiarello said in an interview, “My client is interested in the jersey, not the money. He paid money and he should get the jersey he paid for. He doesn’t have that.”

In response to a request for an interview, CHL president David Branch referred all questions on the matter to Whiffen.

The Hockey Hall of Fame is accused in the claim of “unlawfully retaining and using property to which it does not have title.”

The claim seeks a court order compelling its return to Galbraith.

Hockey Hall of Famed spokesperson Kelly Masse said, in an email response to the Star Monday, that the Marner game-worn jersey was “returned to the Knights earlier today per arrangements made last week.”

Whiffen said the club took steps to get the jersey back from the Hall of Fame and give it to Galbraith in exchange for a signed confidentiality release, but Galbraith refused to comply.

“They want to pursue the right to still sue,” he said.

Chiarello said his client should not have to sign a release to obtain an item that is rightfully his.

When Galbraith won an online auction for the jersey in May, the Knights had just won the Ontario Hockey League championship and earned entry into the Canadian Hockey League’s Memorial Cup championship series.

The CHL is a primary feeder system for the National Hockey League featuring players generally aged 16 to 20.

After returning victorious from the Memorial Cup championships in Alberta, the Knights were to provide winners of the jersey auctions with their purchases, the statement of claim reads.

When Galbraith contacted the team to collect his jersey, a team official told him the shirt had been loaned to the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, the claim says.

After several weeks of unanswered requests, Galbraith received an email from a representative of the team on July 25, the statement claims.

That email to Galbraith, included in the statement of claim, said: “We have secured your jersey worn by Mitch Marner for the 2015/2016 season. The Marner jersey currently displayed at the Hockey Hall of Fame was worn only at the Memorial Cup. If you would like us to send the jersey to you, please provide your mailing address.”

Suspicious, Galbraith, who has purchased and sold more than 250 collector hockey jerseys, reviewed high-resolution game photographs of Marner’s jerseys and examined details such as loose threads, stitching and puck markings.

He concluded Marner, “wore the same black jersey in the Ontario Hockey League playoffs as he did in the Memorial Cup,” the statement of claim reads. “This was contrary to (the team representative’s)representation that the Marner jersey worn in competition at the Memorial Cup was ‘worn only at the Memorial Cup’ and not before,” the statement reads.

In an interview, Galbraith said he was also suspicious because of the long delay from the club in responding to his request for the jersey.

“They found the jersey when I said was going to contact a lawyer, which was another red flag,” Galbraith said in an interview.

The Knights’ Whiffen says the delay happened because the team was in the process of firing its merchandise manager at that time.

“We had someone overseeing that and it wasn’t working out. We terminated his employment.”

Despite his suspicions, Galbraith showed up at the Knights’ merchandise store to collect the jersey offered.

The civil claim details a series of alleged inconsistencies between that jersey and those worn by Marner on the ice.

The "price-tag-style" sticker "perfectly intact" inside the jersey Scott Galbraith was given by the Knights.
The “price-tag-style” sticker “perfectly intact” inside the jersey Scott Galbraith was given by the Knights.  (GEOFF ROBINS)  

Among them: there was a “price-tag style” sticker “perfectly intact” inside the jersey Galbraith was given by the Knights. The statement of claim alleges such stickers are “quickly smudged off” of legitimate game-worn jerseys, “from the friction of wear and laundering.”

A crest on the left side of the chest denoting Marner’s role as alternate captain of the team was “not in a consistent location on the jersey presented to Galbraith when compared to photographs of the jersey worn by Marner in game action or photos posted of the jersey on the auction website.”

Scott Galbraith's suit also highlights the crest on the left side of the chest of the jersey that denotes Marner’s role as alternate captain of the team.
Scott Galbraith’s suit also highlights the crest on the left side of the chest of the jersey that denotes Marner’s role as alternate captain of the team.  (GEOFF ROBINS/TORONTO STAR)  

A stray thread that appears in high-resolution photos of the jersey Marner was wearing in both the playoffs and the Memorial Cup was missing on the jersey Galbraith was given by the Knights.

And the “fighting strap” — used to prevent the jersey from being removed during a fight — on the rear interior of the jersey Galbraith was given had apparently never been used.

The only signs of wear on the jersey Galbraith received, the statement reads, were “black streaks on the white crested numbers on the jersey’s back and shoulders.”

The claim alleges those streaks “appear to be purposely created with the edge of a black rubber hockey puck as they do not appear consistent with typical puck marks resulting from game action.”

In addition, the statement claims, “there is no odour to the jersey of either having been worn in a game or having been laundered.”

The Knights’ Whiffen dismissed those allegations, saying team jerseys are not laundered after every game, a single player can wear many jerseys over the course of a season or playoffs and efforts to match jerseys to photos is not a reliable method of proving authenticity.

“It is not a foolproof or precise process, because you would literally have to watch every shift played during the course of the season to know if every mark corresponded. It’s a tool, but hardly a science.”

Asked if there could have been a simple error resulting in Galbraith being given a new jersey, rather than a game-worn shirt, Whiffen said it was “unlikely.”

“Game-worn sweaters are overseen by our training staff,” he said. “Can I tell you how many games it was worn? No. We don’t track it.”

Chiarello, who is going up against his old team by representing Galbraith, calls this his way of representing the same fans who supported him as a player.

“I feel a loyalty to a guy like Scott who paid $20 to watch me play back in the 1990s. When he came to me with this issue, I was disappointed that a team that my name is linked with could potentially be doing this to fans who are responsible for putting the team on the pedestal it’s on.”

While the financial returns of CHL teams are not public, the London Knights are widely considered to be one of the most valuable and lucrative clubs in the Canadian Hockey League.

Marner, whose agent did not respond to interview requests for this story, logged the most points in the Ontario Hockey League in the 2015-16 season, with 116 points in 57 games. He was honoured with the Ontario Hockey League’s Red Tilson Trophy as the most outstanding player of the year, as well as the Stafford Smythe Memorial Trophy, as the MVP of the Memorial Cup Tournament.

“I really like the way he played,” said Galbraith, a fan of the team since childhood, who has been keeping his eye on Marner’s jersey all season with the intention of purchasing it.

“I knew I was going to go after this. I was taking pictures of it. I took screen shots of the jersey on TV and looked up photos online.”

It’s a habit that consumes much of his life, he says.

“If you ask my wife, she hates this.”

Charges stayed after lengthy delays in alleged TTC fraud case

toronto-fraud

By

A provincial judge has stayed the charges against three men accused in a fraud and conspiracy case that shook public confidence in the TTC, after handing down a ruling that slammed the “frustratingly glacial” pace of the prosecution and determined that lengthy delays in the case had violated the trio’s charter right to a speedy trial.

In the judgment delivered in the Ontario Court of Justice at College Park on July 26, Justice John Moore agreed with applications from the defence that argued the time it had taken to get the men to trial was unreasonable.

Moore blamed the drawn-out nature of the proceedings in part on the “disorganization” and “lack of a game plan” in the Crown’s office. He also rebuked the prosecutor initially assigned to the case, describing him as “often unresponsive or inaccessible to the defence.”

The three accused in the case were two former TTC employees, Amadeo Cuschieri, 57, and Maciej Zych, 51, as well as a third man, Dan Doron, 52. All three were arrested on Jun. 11, 2014, after a lengthy TTC investigation.

Three other men, who were either working for the TTC or had retired from the agency at the time, were arrested the same month on related allegations, but charges against them had already been stayed.

The charges against all six stemmed from allegations laid out in a 2014 court document called an information to obtain a search warrant (ITO), in which police alleged that, between 2008 and 2013, TTC employees improperly billed the commission for more than $100,000 in fraudulent purchases that included trigger locks for firearms, decorative front door handles, folding knives and expensive tools for an auto body shop.

Between them, the six men were charged with a range of offences alleged to have taken place between 2008 and 2014 and included fraud, theft, breach of trust, conspiracy and possession of stolen property.

The allegations in the ITO were not tested in court.

In Moore’s ruling, which he made at the end of a two-day hearing that began July 25, the judge noted that when the Crown’s office disclosed its evidence to the defence in May 2015, the disclosure was missing key information like summaries of what several Crown witnesses would testify to. Also missing was evidence relating to the conspiracy charges facing the three men, even though that information had been available to the Crown’s office since the time of the arrests.

It wasn’t until January 2016, 18 months after the arrests, that the Crown’s office provided enough disclosure for both sides to be prepared to set trial dates.

According to the judge, the assistant Crown who was originally assigned to the case, an attorney named Craig Power, “departed the Crown office” in the fall of 2015 for “personal reasons,” and once assistant Crown Scott Patterson stepped in to take the lead “matters proceeded in a more timely fashion.”

Power, who is still listed by the Canadian Law List as an assistant Crown, did not return messages requesting comment this week. The Ministry of the Attorney General refused to comment on his employment status, citing the confidentiality of human resources issues.

At the July hearing, Patterson argued that the delays were reasonable because of the complexity of the case, which he said required linking the “thousands and thousands” of items found during searches of Cuschieri’s and Zych’s homes to documents that allegedly proved they were TTC property.

But Moore dismissed that argument and said that the legal issues involved in the case were “simple and straightforward.”

In his reasons for judgment, Moore cited a recent Supreme Court of Canada ruling that laid out new deadlines for cases tried in provincial court. The court set a “presumptive ceiling” of 18 months from the time someone is charged to the end of their trial, and ruled that delays longer than that should be presumed to be “unreasonable” and a violation of charter rights unless the Crown can show exceptional circumstances.

The trial for Cuschieri, Doron, and Zych was scheduled to begin in October and finish in January 2017, or 31 months after their arrest, which would have exceeded the ceiling by 13 months.

Asked if the Crown intended to appeal Moore’s decision, Brendan Crawley, a spokesman for the Ministry of the Attorney General, said it would be “inappropriate to comment” because the case was still within the appeal period.

Cuschieri’s lawyer, Aaron Spektor, said his client was “extremely happy and relieved.”

Cuschieri worked as a TTC foreman and manager in the agency’s revenue and security equipment maintenance department, but retired on May 30, 2014. Twelve days later, he was charged with theft over $5,000, fraud over $5,000, breach of trust, conspiracy, and possession of stolen property over $5,000 for the purpose of trafficking.

Spektor said that the evidence presented to obtain search warrants almost “never matches” the information that comes out at trial, and that Cuschieri would have pleaded not guilty if the charges hadn’t been stayed. He added that his client “is presumed to be innocent, just like you and I would be, of any charges that are laid against him.”

Zych was working as a TTC repairman at the time of his arrest but resigned soon after, according to the transit agency. He was facing charges of conspiracy and possession of stolen property over $5,000. His lawyer, Paul Genua, said that his client had always maintained his innocence and that, if the case had gone to trial, “I was confident that . . . I was going to win that case.”

Genua emphasized that the judge’s decision to stay the charges wasn’t a technicality, but recognition of the “important right that all citizens have to be tried within a reasonable time.”

Doron, 52, the only one of the three who didn’t work at the TTC, was charged with conspiracy. His attorney, Seth Weinstein, said most of the evidence in the ITO didn’t pertain to Doron and “we were always confident in our defence.”

The ITO that led to the charges was based on information provided to the police by TTC employee Staff. Sgt. Mark Russell, a veteran investigator who led the transit agency’s probe.

According to the document, Russell alleged that, between 2008 and 2014, the accused billed the commission for more than $100,000 in fraudulent purchases, including almost $20,000 for residential door hardware and other material the transit agency had no need for, $16,838 for four tool cabinets and drawers that didn’t appear to be on TTC property, and $1,445 for a cordless drill kit that the TTC didn’t need.

According to the ITO, Cuschieri had signing authority for purchase orders up to $15,000, and between 2007 and February 2014 his department spent more than $65,000 on high-end Snap-On brand tools for auto mechanics. Russell estimated that more than 95 per cent of the purchases couldn’t be considered legitimate.

Russell also alleged that Cuschieri, Doron and Zych intended to set up a company to manufacture turnstiles, and when Cuschieri issued a TTC procurement request for 200 turnstiles worth a collective $4,000,000, he listed the company as a suggested supplier.

At the time of the arrests, allegations that TTC employees had perpetrated a sustained and elaborate fraud against the transit agency rattled TTC leaders. CEO Andy Byford wrote a letter to employees in which he acknowledged the alleged crimes had “harm(ed) our collective reputation and the public’s trust of us in the process.”

According to TTC spokesman Brad Ross, in response to the allegations the commission established a new whistleblower policy to protect employees who report wrongdoing from reprisals. The commission’s code of conduct policy was also updated, about 200 senior managers received ethics training, and the commission put a system in place to detect unusual purchases.

“The decision to stay the charges is outside of the TTC’s control and not a reflection on the investigation or the actions we took as an organization,” Ross said. “The TTC’s reputation as an organization that takes wrongdoing seriously — criminal or otherwise — is extremely important for both employees and the public that funds us to understand.”

Although the arrests prompted changes at the transit agency, by spring of last year the cases against the six accused were falling apart.

Charges against one of the men, Amadeo Cuschieri’s son, were stayed in April 2015. Steven Cuschieri, a 37-year-old who was working as a TTC bus mechanic in 2014, had been accused of possessing stolen tools and tool chests worth over $5,000. In November 2015 the case against Lorenzo Lamanna, 58, a TTC repairman charged with theft and fraud under $5,000, was also stayed.

According to Crawley, the attorney general spokesman, the Crown stayed the charges after it examined the evidence and determined there was “no reasonable prospect of conviction” in either case.

Steven Cuschieri remains employed at the TTC. His lawyer declined the Star’s request for comment, but Ross, the TTC spokesman, said: “In the end, there was no evidence of any wrongdoing on his part.”

On Jul. 22 of this year, the Crown also abandoned the case against John Mulhall, a 67-year-old former TTC worker who had been Amadeo Cuschieri’s supervisor. Mulhall, who was retired at the time of his arrest, was facing charges of theft over $5,000, criminal breach of trust, and fraud over $5,000. The Crown stayed those charges after Mulhall’s attorney filed an application claiming the case had been unreasonably delayed.

Mulhall’s lawyer declined to comment to the Star about the case.

Mississauga man faces fraud, corruption charges

halton-fraud

Via the Hamilton Spectator By Steve Arnold

A former Halton Region official has been charged with fraud, corruption and taking kickbacks in connection with the handling of more than $100 million in construction projects.

The charges against David Ohashi were announced Wednesday morning by Halton police in a news release.

Police said the charges followed a year-long investigation prompted by an anonymous tip last year. The investigation centred on allegations the veteran manager “gained personal benefit between November 2010 and January 2016 by providing confidential information and advantage to contractors that he had personal relationships with.”

Ohashi, 56, of Mississauga, was fired from his $125,000-a-year position as manager of Plant Capital and Engineering in January after 16 years with the region.

He faces charges of fraud under $5,000, use of a forged document, three counts of municipal corruption and three counts of accepting secret commissions.

“Ohashi’s position within the region also permitted him to approve maintenance and/or construction to the region’s infrastructure that was later deemed not necessary or without justification,” the police news release said. “Ohashi also submitted altered business expense claims to the region for personal travel outside of Canada.”

The police charges are allegations only. Nothing has been proven in court.

Det. Const. Keith Nakahara, of the Halton police fraud bureau, said in an interview that Ohashi’s position gave him control of construction projects for the region’s sewer and water treatment facilities.

“These were complicated projects that allowed someone to misrepresent details about the contracts,” he said. “He had the chance to create a situation where companies he wanted to succeed could win contracts.

Nakahara said the charges levelled Wednesday concern three large projects valued at more than $100 million. He would not specify the projects because the investigation is continuing into some of the companies involved in those contracts.

Nakahara said the investigation was a complicated affair that included obtaining more than 15 judicial authorizations — basically search warrants — to access banking and other institutional records.

Throughout the course of the probe, he added, Halton region officials co-operated at every stage. Officials also conducted an internal probe that led to Ohashi’s firing on Jan. 21.

Police added “the investigation did not uncover any information that would indicate wrongdoing by any other current or former member of the Region of Halton.”

Halton staff, citing ongoing legal proceedings, refused to elaborate on how an alleged fraud could go on for more than five years without being uncovered.

“Because of the legal proceedings, we are unable to comment on specifics. We have fully cooperated with the police investigation and will continue to do so,” regional spokesperson Stacey Hunter said in an email exchange.

“Halton Region has a rigorous code of conduct and a comprehensive corporate fraud policy. We have a robust program of controls in place to prevent or identify inappropriate behaviour including: a strongly adhered to purchasing bylaw, and related policies and procedures and an internal audit group,” she said. “We are confident we have the systems and oversight in place to protect the taxpayer.”

Regional chair Gary Carr, through the communications staff, refused further comment. Burlington Mayor Rick Goldring, also a regional councillor, similarly refused comment through his staff.

In a telephone interview, planning and public works committee chair Colin Best said the question of how the alleged frauds went on so long will be covered in a report the committee expects to receive at its Sept. 3 meeting.

Despite the allegations, he said taxpayers can be assured their money is being properly handled.

“That’s why we have our control measures, to ensure that the taxpayer’s interests are protected,” he said.

Ohashi is scheduled to appear in court in Milton on Sept. 13.

Halton police ask that anyone with information relevant to the ongoing investigation call the Regional Fraud Unit at 905-825-4747 ext. 8739. Tips can also be submitted to Crime Stoppers by calling 1-800-222-8477, through haltoncrimestoppers.com or by texting Tip201 with a message to 274637.

Mississauga man gets nine months for fraud conspiracy

mississauga-fraud2

A Mississauga man has been given nine months in jail for his part in a fake identity scheme in Hamilton, Toronto and Kitchener used to obtain bank credit or loans.

Nashaid Iqbal Bhatti and another man were charged in 2014 by the RCMP with fraud and money-laundering related to creating fake identities used to acquire legitimate pieces of ID and, ultimately, bank loans.

On Wednesday, Bhatti, 45, pleaded guilty in a Hamilton court to conspiring in Toronto to defraud financial institutions of more than $5,000 — and to using a forged citizenship certificate in Kitchener. He was given a nine-month sentence.

His co-accused, Tahir Mahmood, a Toronto cab driver, was sentenced in a Kitchener court on July 13 to 90 days’ intermittent jail time after pleading guilty to a charges including fraud over $5,000 and conspiracy to commit fraud.

The RCMP began investigating in 2013 after a Hamilton airport border officer intercepted what was believed to be a fake citizenship card that came from the United Arab Emirates and was destined for a Hamilton address.

Hamilton RCMP alleged fictitious Hamilton companies were created with local addresses to launder money through them and then either converted to bank drafts or moved overseas.

Car insurer’s fraud effort drives good Mississauga customer away


mississauga-fraud

By

I’ve been driving for a long time, and my insurance company has never asked to visit my house to check that the car I say I own is in the driveway. Nor has it asked to see my hydro bill to prove I live at the address I list on the policy.

But it can. And it did, to Jacinta Kanakaratnam, 31, whose insurance with Allstate Canada was up for renewal. Her story is an interesting look at how insurers try to fight fraud, but sometimes catch a good customer in the net. The consequence in this case is that Allstate may still have the bad ones, but it has also lost a good one.

Kanakaratnam had been an Allstate customer for a year. She received a policy renewal letter in early July, which included the standard questionnaire that updates policy information and is approved by Ontario’s insurance regulator. But she also got a second one, generated internally by the company, asking for more information.

Kanakaratnam was told the supporting documents on the second form had to be delivered in person to the Scarborough East office on Kingston Rd., where she purchased the insurance policy a year ago. This was even though she lives 50 kilometres away in Mississauga, and Allstate has offices that are closer to her home.

Allstate also wanted a report from the Ministry of Transportation outlining the driving history of every licensed household member. She would have to pay for this. The insurer wanted to visit her home and inspect her car. It asked for a copy of the car’s ownership and a utility bill to prove she lived where she said she did.

“When I received the letter, I was shocked and offended,” says Kanakaratnam. “I’ve had no claims in 10 years of driving, no late payments. Why would they ask me for this?”

As it turns out, Kanakaratnam was caught up in a broader initiative, and her upset was made worse by customer service in which common sense did not prevail. She got different answers from different people, including the head office. The personal touch was completely absent and so, confused and angry, she came to The Star for help.

Her case now sits with the company’s ombud, but it’s a moot point. She’s taking her business elsewhere.

“We appreciate the customer’s concerns and confusion around the request and we apologize for that,” said Allstate Canada spokesman Nicole Watts. “The request is to protect our customers and ensure they have proper coverage.”

Kanakaratnam has never made an insurance claim and pays her premiums on time. She has owned the same car for a decade and has lived her entire life with her family in their Mississauga home. Why would she generate red flags on renewal?

Insurance companies are in the business of assessing risk; based on that, they set their prices. In the GTA, Brampton and Scarborough are higher-risk places to insure a car, because insurance companies have a higher claims experience there. So you pay more for car insurance if you live there.

One way people who live in high-risk areas try to beat this system is to claim that they live somewhere else. Another common fraud is to insure a very old car, which then has an accident and is written off.

To an Allstate database, Kanakaratnam’s file could cause concerns. She lives in Mississauga but insures in Scarborough. She drives a 2004 Nissan Altima.

But a little human intervention would have reached a different conclusion. Kanakaratnam bought her insurance in Scarborough because she met an Allstate broker who worked at the Scarborough East office at a social function. (He no longer works for the company, she says.) He convinced her to try Allstate and issued the policy there.

Kanakaratnam has lived at the same Mississauga address for more than 25 years, she said. She bought the Altima in 2007 and while it is getting older, she rarely uses it during the week, preferring public transit. She has been insured for a decade without a claim.

Related: 10 things to know about car insurance

Allstate’s Watts said the company sends out the second request letters “when we have concerns based on trends or suspected instances so we can confirm the accuracy of our policies.”

She indicated the company had concerns about where some customers insuring through the Scarborough East agency actually lived. Many renewal letters sent via registered mail were coming back marked Return to Sender, indicating invalid addresses. So the company initiated a wider request for information. Kanakaratnam’s profile added her to the list.

“When we send these requests to a broad group, there are customers with good history and accurate records who receive them as well,” Watts said. “This may be the case for Jacinta. She was not targeted and was simply part of a broader verification exercise.”

Insurance fraud costs all of us, and is one reason why Ontario has the highest car insurance premiums in the country. Allstate, and other insurers, should rightly go after it.

But Allstate couldn’t seem to distinguish a good customer from a bad one. Nor did it seem to make much effort to find out the difference.

10 Best Tips to Avoid and Detect Auto Insurance Fraud

toronto-private-investigations-fraud

Fraud happens all days of the year and it can happen to anyone. One of the increasingly common fraud these days is auto insurance fraud. Current data states that Ontario loses approximately $1.6 billion a year to auto insurance fraud. That’s $1.6 billion that goes straight to the pockets of crooks and $1.6 billion that could have been put to better use.

Because so much resources get siphoned away by perpetrators of auto insurance fraud, it is one of the biggest factors that drives up insurance cost, thereby affecting all of us.

Ontario legislature recently passes Bill 15, the government’s answer to the additional need to protect consumers by helping to reduce insurance fraud and regulating tow and storage services. Together with police services and crime stoppers across the country like Haywood Hunt & Associates INC. Investigation Services, this bill will not only help investigate fraud but also help to raise awareness about its prevalence.

To join the fight against auto insurance fraud, let’s brush up on some key data below.

Types of Insurance Fraud

  • Personal injury fraud
  • Vehicle Identification Number alteration to pass off an unsafe vehicle as safe.
  • Stage collisions and commonly associated service-supplier fraud

Tips to Detect and Avoid Auto Insurance Fraud

  1. Be an aware buyer. Knowing your vehicle’s history as well as making sure that you’re purchasing from a reputable dealer will not only save you from fraud but also a lot of other vehicle-related problems down the road. It pays to stay away from ‘Too Good To Be True’ sort of deals.
  2. Check and inspect vehicles for flood damage before purchase. Silt or sand under the carpets, headliner cloth, floor mats, and behind the dashboard can mean that the vehicle you’re about to purchase has been underwater in the past. Don’t forget to check for mildew and water stains too!
  3. Consult a certified mechanic before buying a vehicle.
  4. See if the vehicle has just been reVINed or if it has been branded as non-repairable in the past by checking for rust above areas where water does not usually reach.
  5. Avoid situations for a staged collision such as when you’re tailgating the vehicle in front of you. It pays to keep distance.
  6. Report any suspected case of staged collision by calling the police to the scene of the accident.
  7. Document everything that you can in the event of a collision. Take photos or videos of the damage, write down the vehicle license plate number, note the other driver’s behavior, and watch out for red flags of a scam.
  8. Call your insurance representative as soon as possible in the event of a collision and know your insurance’s coverage and policy.
  9. Make sure to use a trusted tow truck service. Additionally, read everything before signing anything and note down the tow truck’s licensing number. You can also ask for your vehicle to be towed to your chosen location.
  10. If you suspect that you’re being victimized by a scammer, call the Haywood Hunt team or local authorities for guidance.

Yes, fraud is everywhere, but equipped with knowledge about how fraud cases work will help you detect and avoid it. We’re here to spread fraud awareness and thus, empower you so that you too can help fight fraud. Don’t hesitate to consult with us if you have any questions.

16 Tips to Avoid Identity Theft Online

toronto-private-investigations

Online fraud is all over the internet. Unsuspecting surfers won’t know that just by unwittingly giving away their private information, their identity and financial information can be stolen and used by criminals. Cyber criminals would use fake websites, unsolicited email messages, message boards, chat rooms and yes, even your social media account to get access to your details.

Phishing scams and Pharming scams abound, and now is the time, more than ever to actively avoid attempts at online identity theft by arming yourself with knowledge to combat online fraud. We’ve compiled some tips to avoid identity theft online below for you.

Open Attachments with Caution

Senders that you don’t know can easily send you virus-laden files via email. If you received an email with an attachment (especially if the attachment is an .exe file) and the subject or sender seems off, better just ignore the email or mark it as spam.

Don’t Allow File Sharing On Your Computer

If your computer is open or connected to a network, it makes you vulnerable to attackers. By disabling file sharing, you have the power to grant access only to people you choose.

Regularly Check Bank Statements

Not all banks alert you if they find any suspicious activity in your account, so you better be checking your bank balance and statement regularly.

Have a Strong Password

And to be on the safe side, make sure that you use a different password for your various accounts. You won’t give a thief your house key or leave it hanging by the front door, right? Do the same for your online accounts.

Never Share Your Pin Code with Anyone

No matter if someone says they work with your bank or they will close your account if you don’t give them your pin. People who do that are crooks pretending to be bank employees.

Don’t Keep Your Financial Info on Your Device

If your device gets stolen or hacked, any cybercriminal can easily access your bank.

Pay Attention to A Website’s Privacy Policy

The website should not share your information or try to sell it. Better yet, simply do not enter your private details if you don’t trust the website.

List Down the Vendors You Buy From

If you have the company’s address and telephone number, getting your money back will be easier in case of unauthorized purchase or charge.

Double Check Websites Before Entering Personal Details

Fake websites that look like a legitimate site you want to visit is a common occurrence in online fraud. Open websites in a new browser and look for the security ‘lock’ icon at the URL to avoid pharming websites.

Lookout for Security Seal

Authenticated websites have the seal and signify that they were checked and free from malware.

Keep Your Software Updated

Your OS provider is most likely issuing periodic updates to help protect your device and keep in functioning well. Make sure that you install and use these security updates.

Don’t Send Money for Someone Else

Money launderers can try to coax you to send money in their behalf by sending you a fake cheque. This is a common money laundering and online fraud scheme.

Use Encrypted Websites

Or try to as much as possible. Websites that start with https and/or with a padlock icon are generally safe because it means transactions are encrypted and secure.

Check Papers for Financial Data Before Throwing Away

Paper copies of your bank details, log-in information, and even credit card statements should be shredded before being thrown in the trash.

Double Check Email Addresses

Legitimate businesses do not use free email service providers when sending official correspondence. If someone claims to be from your bank and yet uses gmail, yahoo, AOL, Hotmail, and the like, report that person.

Report Online Fraud

Any suspected activity of online fraud or identity theft should be reported as soon as possible. Quite a lot of organized internet crimes have been foiled because of concerned people who reported suspected cases of such.

Need further help to combat or avoid online identity theft? Then let our private investigator team help you. We specialize in handling cases within Toronto and beyond. Contact us today!

Hot Tips for Preventing Data Theft

business-fraud

In this information age, your data is worth its bytes in gold. In a 2015 Cost of Data Breach Study conducted by IBM, the average cost of a data breach in 2015 is $3.8 million! That’s a 23% increase over the results of the 2013 study and shows just how important it is more than ever to protect your data from thieves and criminals. Below are some expert tips on keeping your business’ sensitive data away from thieves.

Manage Data Storage and Access Properly

  1. Lock Away Paper Files or Abolish Paper Files Altogether

Your paper files are not safe even when they’re not the most updated reports you have. When your paper files are no longer needed, it’s best to shred them as soon as possible. The must-shred paper list includes extra boarding passes, luggage tags, credit offers, trip itineraries, vendor payment stubs and invoices, canceled checks, and price lists.

  1. Implement Data Privacy Controls in All Aspects

If you used contractors and third parties, they must have the same level of strict data control that you have. It helps to audit them using your own standards.

  1. Limit Access to Sensitive Data

If someone has no need to know something, then that person should not have access to that information to begin with. This prevents your data getting compromised in case of a security breach.

  1. Assess What Needs to be Protected

Different businesses have different needs and thus, will need different levels of data protection. Hiring an outside expert to help you audit your current protocol and assess your weaknesses. Clients and customers tend to trust businesses that have undergone outside data assessment.

Upgrade Your Technology

  1. Protect all Electronic Devices and Computers

Use passwords so you can easily wipe your data remotely if your gadget gets compromised.

  1. Enable or Install a Firewall

This prevents outsiders from getting access to your computer network.

  1. Encrypt Your Data

Using encryption for sensitive information protects them and should be installed on company-owned devices.

  1. Safeguard Your Wireless Network

Having a strong password and encryption prevents outsiders to see your network and hop on to it.

  1. Activate 2FA

Two-factor authentication is your extra layer of protection. Thieves can guess passwords, no matter how secure you think they are.

  1. Use Internet Proxy

If you’re using free internet at a café or an airport, other people can sniff out your traffic. Proxy services can prevent that from happening.

  1. Limit Movement of Personal Information

Information should not be transferred to a portable medium. Access should be in-house.

  1. Install Anti-Spyware and Anti-Virus

And don’t use free security software because they don’t often provide enough security. Make sure that your anti-spyware and anti-virus are updated regularly as well.

  1. Be Extra Vigilant in Protecting Sensitive Data

Regularly remove personal information from online databases, more so if no longer needed.

Get Your People Involved in Data Protection

  1. Make Strong Passwords a Requirement

More than 70% of all breaches are because of bad password choices or just poor management of passwords. The more complicated a password is, the better.

  1. Implement A ‘Clean Desk’ Policy

No papers should be on anyone’s desk or workstation if an employee is not there. Every desk should have a lockable drawer.

  1. Have Policies for Personal Devices

Company computers should be on a different network that’s open to outsiders and/or personal devices. Malware-infected personal devices can steal corporate information if connected to the same network.

  1. Have Social Media Policies

Have a restriction list of what can be shared and not shared via social media. Even an innocent brunch meeting posted on social media can cost you money if that meeting isn’t supposed to be known publicly.

  1. Train Employees to Recognize Smishing and Phishing

Outsiders will use social engineering techniques to gain access to your information. Some will use link baits and some will use programs that your employees can unwittingly download and infect your computers.

  1. Know That Mistakes Are Totally Normal

Wrong people can have access to certain files because of human error. The best thing you can do is enforce limits so that breaches and mistakes are kept nearly non-existent.

  1. Treat Your Employees Right

Angry or unhappy employees can be your most serious vulnerability because unhappy people get emotional and might do things that they’ll regret later on. Treating your employees with respect will minimize the likelihood of something like this from occurring.

Need expert help for preventing data theft in your business? Risk assessment and management are just some of our services! Consult with Toronto’s premier private investigators and don’t be left behind. Contact us today!

Short-Term Rental Scam on the Rise?

toronto-fraud-investigators

If you’re a frequent traveler or planning to go on a trip, then you’ve probably heard or perhaps have used online home-sharing portals such as HomeAway, Airbnb, and VRBO. These online home-sharing portals are changing the way people travel and find accommodations and with that change, is the increasing number of fraudsters who victimize people opting for hotel alternatives.

Short-term rental scams usually target travelers who are looking for a great deal. The most common short-term rental scam involves booking a short-term rental place online, being asked to pay in full, and then finding out later on that the place you’ve rented does not even exist. That’s the advance-fee scheme. There’s actually quite a few schemes that are being constantly used by short-term lease fraudsters, and it would not hurt to learn more about them below:

Hit and Run

The fraudster basically just takes your money and runs in this scheme, just like in advance fee scheme. You’re lured in by a fake listing through a website that is using either stolen photos or misrepresented ones. The address is either fake or could be real, but there is no property to rent. Once you’ve wired or transferred the money, the scammer simply stops replying or might even pick you up, get your money and then drop you off at the site only for you to find out later that the real owners are not renting their place out.

Bait and Switch

In this scheme, the fraudster would show you beautiful properties (that are not even available) only to inform you in the last minute that what they have available is a less-desirable property because they’ve accidentally double-booked their place. You’ll be forced to stay at the less-desirable property thinking that you’re still lucky to get short notice accommodations while the fraudsters still make a profit.

Price Jacking

This scheme is similar to bait and switch in the sense that the renter still gets accommodations but the terms are not as previously agreed.

Phish and Hack

The fraudster hacks the real rental property’s owner’s email address and phishes travelers by using deceptive emails that place them as the owners. This way, the fraudster will be able to collect payments.

Protecting Yourself

Because it is nearly break and vacation season, scams like these will be at their peak again. If you’re a renter or someone who is in the short-term rental business or a participant in the home-sharing economy, you will want to be able to protect yourself. You can do so by looking out for red flags such as:

  • Emails with bad grammar. Real management companies and property owners will not send emails nor maintain websites that are teeming with bad grammar.
  • Mode of payment is strictly Moneygram or Western Union. Most managers and owners would have another option to pay through a more secure means such as Paypal or via credit card.

As for more proactive means of avoiding short-term rental scams, you can protect yourself by communicating via phone or via Skype call. This allows you to ask questions as well as ask for references without the possible scammer being able to give excuses after excuses.

If you work in the business or work with people who are part of the home-sharing economy, feel free to share this article to help with spreading awareness about these types of scams. Fraud prevention is everyone’s business because every case of fraud affects each of us in some way. Do not hesitate to contact our team of private investigators in Toronto if you need more help.

 

March is Fraud Prevention Month!

 

fraud-prevention

Fraud and scams are everywhere. Just these past 3 months, Canadians has been continuously warned by RCMP about telephone scams involving the Immigration departments and Revenue Canada that has been extorting money from residents. More than that, there are ransomware stings that are targeting companies and have cost a loss of more than $3 million just this past year. There were also about 18,000 extortion-related complaints that have cost Canadians about the same. It is time to arm ourselves with knowledge and do what we can to stop these frauds right in their tracks!

Our Biggest Losses

The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre shares that the biggest dollar loss by individuals was by 990 persons who were victimized by romance scams. The victims have lost about $16 million just for scams related to internet dating. Investment scams are not far behind at having a victim toll of 268 and a loss of $8 million. Prizes scams resulted to people being swindled out of $7.1 million, spear phishing about $6 million, and extortion scams coming in at $3.1 million. Fake infected computers and fake service warnings fooled 5,700 residents out of their hard-earned $2.8 million.

If you’re into information technology, data handling, or a CISO (Chief Information Security Officer) then you know just how serious the fraud situation is and why it is important to educate people about Fraud Prevention Month, even if just for consumer awareness.

Guide to Fraud Trends and Other Threats

KMPG Canada released their Cyber Watch guide with the aim of creating awareness for protecting one’s self from cyber and fraud-related threats. They include:

  • Combating the increased extortion-driven stacks and ransomware attempts by knowing where your valuable data is stored and keeping it safe either by having backups and/or having a sound recovery strategy. As for ransomware, protocols have to be in place and all employees must be made aware of them.
  • Organizations have to be on top of all the changes in security and be ready for governments, courts, consumers, and privacy commissioners pressuring them to be more transparent about their breach notification and cyber security readiness.
  • Organizations have to be prepared for possibly needing to write and develop their own software as mobile-related vulnerabilities continue to increase. This includes employee education about the possible malware carried by apps to prevent leakage of data.
  • Organizations will have to focus more on improving threat detection versus prevention as a primary tool to be always be one step ahead of attacks. Real-time intelligence tools should be used more to protect the sensitive information one may have. Intelligence is not just about prevention, it is about identifying threats, mitigating them, and responding to them.
  • CISOs will have to be vigilant towards risks posed by suppliers and partners. Being hacked through a supplier happened in 2014 for U.S.’s Target stores in 2014. A full audit may be needed to identify and monitor security gaps.

Fraud Prevention Month Ongoing and Future Events

The Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses will be having another webinar tomorrow, March 10, 2016 (same as yesterday) as part of the Fraud Prevention Month events. The webinar will be about preventing fraud in small businesses and will start at 1 p.m. Eastern. The French version is scheduled today.

A Twitterchat by the Financial Services Commission of Ontario is scheduled today from 1 to 2 p.m. Eastern. Follow hashtag #Fraudchat to know more. A repeat of this is scheduled on the 31st of March.

Lastly, the Better Business Bureau declared the 15th of march as Password Reset Day. Know more about your password’s vulnerability from out blogs on the worst passwords list and protecting your privacy.

Want to know more about fraud prevention? Then be sure to stalk your Toronto private investigators’ blog for updates and news. Need fraud detection assistance? Contact us today!