Cops dropped ball, failed to trap lobster fraudster

Richmond Mounties had a chance to catch a lobster-loving local fraudster red-handed, but in dropping the ball, may have enabled the culprit to victimize several other Atlantic Canada seafood vendors.

Last May, Ken MacKay, a salesman with Yarmouth Bar Fisheries Ltd., contacted Richmond RCMP after he learned his firm had been twice targetted by a fraudster.

MacKay told The Richmond Review Wednesday that the fraudster was about to pick up a 200-pound shipment of lobster at a local Fed-Ex cargo facility at Vancouver International Airport.

So he called the Richmond RCMP to let them know, only to be bogged down with red tape that ended up proving costly for him and possibly three other seafood vendors.

"They had the chance to catch the guy right there on the spot," a frustrated MacKay said. "They basically said, 'Well no, we can't do anything about it.'"

A frustrated MacKay said it was in May when his firm had been called for a first shipment of lobster to a Lower Mainland buyer, and after ensuring the credit card was valid, processed and shipped out the $1,800 order.

Then on May 16, the same customer called again to say the first shipment was great, and wanted to make another order for a weekend party he was planning.

After processing that second shipment, worth $2,400, MacKay got a call from a North Vancouver man, the rightful owner of the credit card, who said he'd never ordered the lobster.

MacKay took immediate action, but by this time, the lobster was already in transit, scheduled to arrive at Vancouver International Airport.

So he called Fed Ex to ensure they didn't release the lobster, but knew that the fraudster was unaware he'd been found out.

MacKay then called the Richmond RCMP, only to be told that he first needed to file a statement with his local Mounties in Nova Scotia. This process took hours, and by that point, the fraudster arrived at the Fed Ex facility on Sea Island. But when he was told the lobster wasn't going to be released to him, he simply turned around and left, no questions asked.

But the story doesn't end there.

Subsequent to MacKay's firm being hit, they heard on a Yarmouth radio station last week that other seafood vendors had been struck too, and that Mounties out East were cautioning the public.

MacKay and his colleagues are now wondering whether the guy who targetted them was also responsible for these other thefts.

And Mounties are also now busy trying to determine if there's a connection.

RCMP Sgt. Duncan Pound said the federal commercial crime section is in contact with the Richmond detachment about the lobster fraud.

He said last week's press release was the result of a commercial crime unit investigation that was focusing in on a "target group of suspects".

Those investigators were aware a group of criminals was making phone calls to the Maritimes for seasonal products, and that something similar might have happened during the last lobster season as well.

He said merchants taking phone orders should take down the customer's name and billing address along with the credit card number and security code, and then call the bank to ensure these match bank records for that credit card.

Last week, the RCMP's federal commercial crime section warned Atlantic Canada seafood vendors about a "rash of credit card fraud that starts over the phone."

In the press release, the RCMP warned: "This crime should serve as a warning to businesses not to take credit card information over the phone. The crime starts when suspects in the Lower Mainland in British Columbia use stolen credit card information to order merchandise over the phone. The suspects use pay and talk cell phones registered under fake names.  When the item is purchased with stolen credit card data, the criminal will typically request to have the merchandise shipped by courier or air cargo to a depot in the Lower Mainland, British Columbia."

Meanwhile, Richmond RCMP are apologetic.

Richmond RCMP Sgt. Cam Kowalski said a local police cruiser should have been dispatched to the airport when the call first came in.

" We should have sent a unit to meet with the individual picking up the shipment,

identified him, arrested him if grounds exist, or detained him for investigation," Kowalski said.

Kowalski said local investigators now have extra incentive to catch the fraudster, and are digging up surveillance footage from Fed Ex to see if there's anything useable.

"It's not like, oops, we missed our opportunity, and now there's nothing we can do. We're backtracking, picking up the pieces, looking for information to further our investigation."

Kowalski said credit card fraud is a worldwide problem worth billions of dollars, and it's likely that for the people behind this particular fraud, it's not their first, last or only such criminal endeavour.

Steps have also been taken at the local detachment to ensure something like this doesn't slip through the cracks again.

Meanwhile, though the second lobster shipment was eventually sold to another customer, Yarmouth Bar Fisheries owner Wade Nickerson is still out thousands of dollars from the first shipment.

"They just dropped the ball," Nickerson said of the Richmond Mounties' failure to catch the fraudster. "At least it would have kept it from snowballing."

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