Elderly victim compensated for lotto scam losses, thanks to B.C. Civil Forfeiture Office

AS part of Victims of Crime Awareness Week (April 19-25) the Province is returning money to an elderly woman who was tricked into giving away her savings by a fake lottery operation.

B.C.’s Civil Forfeiture Office (CFO), working with the Vancouver Police Department (VPD), successfully forfeited a commercial building that was the headquarters of an alleged ring of international fraud artists. The proceeds from this action meant the CFO was able to return more than $70,000 to a 91-year-old California woman scammed by a fake lottery business.

The scam came to light in April 2012 when the VPD’s Financial Crime Unit received an email from police in California that outlined how the woman was led to believe she had won $7.5 million and needed to wire money to a Vancouver bank in order to collect her prize.

After the woman transferred her money to the fake “Australian Government Lottery”, the scammers went underground and she was no longer able to contact them. Further investigation by the VPD led to the discovery that the fraudsters behind the fake lottery scheme were operating out of a commercial building located on Kingsway in Vancouver. That building was forfeited by the CFO in 2014 on the basis that it was funded by, and used for, unlawful activity.

It is not known if anyone else was victimized by the scheme, as the California woman was the only victim to come forward.

Attorney General and Minister of Justice Suzanne Anton said: “Supporting victims of crime is a key focus of our government, and the Civil Forfeiture Office is a driving force in making that possible. No one should be defrauded of their savings, especially someone who should be enjoying her retirement. This is yet another example of what the CFO was set up to do: go after the proceeds of unlawful activity, and return them back to the community and to victims of crime.”

Sgt. Tony Cavezza, Vancouver Police Department Financial Crime Unit, said: “Fraudsters prey on people’s hopes and dreams of financial success. The damage they inflict can impact many aspects of someone’s life beyond their wallet. The Vancouver Police Financial Crime Unit is tasked with investigating and ultimately shutting down these enterprises. I am pleased to see that the work by investigators, in concert with the Civil Forfeiture Office, has not only led to criminal charges, but also closed down the operation of an illegal business and forfeited the proceeds of their activity back to victims of crime.”

Since 2006, the CFO has returned more than $21 million from successful forfeiture actions to crime prevention programs and victim compensation. This includes $1.3 million specifically to victims of fraud.