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Calgary Police warning of new extortion scam

A new mass-marketing scam is threatening Calgarians with violence for non-compliance with blackmail schemes.

Victims of the scam have received unsolicited messages, demanding between $500 and $8,000 for personal services rendered. Graphic and violent images are sent to victims—alongside threats to them and their families—all in an effort to intimidate victims into payment.

And although the Calgary Police Service said they have no reason to believe anyone is actually in danger, scammers have used that fear to prey on Calgarians.

“They’re trying to intimidate people, and they’re trying to blackmail them into thinking they’re dealing with people that are part of some crime organization, and they’re preying upon that fear to try and get cooperation,” said Staff Sergeant Geoff Gawlinski of the Calgary Police Service Economic Crimes Unit.

“They get access to your phone number, your email, through a data breach or accessing it through some sort of social media website, and then they reach out to you and hope that you will bite on what they’re sending,” he said.

In Calgary, three victims so far have lost $4,000 from the scams.

Scam starts off similar to others

Sgt. Gawlinski said that the texts begin in a similar fashion to other mass-marketing scams, like the Canada Revenue Agency scam which threatens arrest for non-payment of fake tax charges.

He said that scam hooks often looks messages telling victims that their bank account, social media, or streaming service account has been compromised. Package non-delivery is also a method scammers have to entice victims.

“A lot of times people don’t even have accounts with these [companies], and then they know they’re fake,” said Sgt. Gawlinski.

“But if it’s, ‘oh, I’m expecting a package and here’s this link I need to click on,’ then people have their guard down, or they’re not making decisions based on knowledge,” he said.

The Calgary Police Service said that a common name used in the reported frauds is Edgar Ortega Valdez, using the phone number 562-579-8694.

Social media posts, and posts collected on scam call websites for that phone number, indicate that scammers posing as Valdez claim to be part of CJNG—also known as the Jalisco New Generation Cartel. Posted messages said that Valdez demanded $8,000 for escort services provided, and threatened execution for non-payment or for contacting police.

Not sharing personal information is the first line of defence

Sgt. Gawlinski said that the first line of defence against scammers is to guard what information is given out.

“It comes down to taking care of your information,” he said.

“Because you don’t, at the end of the day, know who’s getting that information and how it can come back to expose you.”

Sgt. Gawlinski also suggested that whenever Calgarians are pressured to give money, that they delay making any payments until they can speak to someone they trust first.

“One strategy to hold these people off is to say ‘look, I’m going to need a few days to come up with the money,” and then go and talk to somebody that you think is a legitimate authority on these type of situations,” he said.

“Just don’t act alone on impulse and think you’re gonna solve it, because if somebody is trying to extort money from you and you pay them, they’re going to want more and they’re going to continue it.”

Police ask public to help solve crime through reporting

Calgarians that are subject to scam attempts are asked to report those losses to police. For attempts at scamming, to the Canadian Anti-fraud Centre at www.antifraudcentre-centreantifraude.ca.

“Definitely if they are a victim to report it to the police, and if they’re attempted to be scammed, and they don’t suffer a loss, then they should for contact the Canadian Anti-fraud Centre, and report those,” said Sgt. Gawlinski.

“That is definitely a big help because these are happening across Canada, and it’s not just local to Calgary.”

Some things to be aware of that are common in mass-market scams include misspelled email address, website links, and spelling errors in messages themselves. Calgarians should also be on the look out for suspicious attachments or links.

Messages will often contain urgent requests for payment with threats of legal action or physical harm. Payment is also often requested by wire-transfer, pre-paid credit or gift cards, or other forms of non-secure payments.