Halifax-area woman warns of phone scam after losing $14K

A Halifax-area woman and her family are speaking out after she fell victim to a scam that cost her close to $14,000.

Yeaweh Conteh, 20, was at home in Beechville on Wednesday when her phone rang. On the other end was a man who identified himself as a Halifax Regional Police officer.

He told Conteh she was in trouble. 

“I felt like I was panicking, like I was having a heart attack,” she said. “I thought I was actually getting a criminal record.”

The man gave Conteh his name and badge number, and told her someone had obtained her social insurance number and banking information.

“He gave me the option that I should go to my bank and empty my money from my bank … and he gave me a second option that I would just let the police arrest me,” she said.

Conteh said the man instructed her to go to a specific bitcoin automated banking machine, in a Halifax convenience store on Main Avenue, to deposit the money.

Yeaweh was told to use the bitcoin automated banking machine inside TJ’s Grocery located on Main Avenue in Halifax. (Robert Short/CBC)

Bitcoin is a form of digital currency, and bitcoin ABMs have been used for scams in the past.

‘Scared and nervous’

Panicking, Conteh took the bus to the bank and withdrew the cash. The man stayed with her on the line the entire time.

“I followed the instructions when he told me, and he told me not to say anything to nobody … because I would get in trouble for doing this,” she said.

When the bank teller asked her why she was withdrawing such a large sum, Conteh didn’t answer. She said the bank had her sign a liability waiver.

Scared and nervous, with just a few dollars left in her bank account, Conteh deposited close to $14,000 into the bitcoin machine.

“It just disappeared,” she said.

Yeaweh said she’s ‘disappointed’ in herself for believing the scammer, and now she’s afraid to answer her phone. (Robert Short/CBC)

When the man on the phone was satisfied he’d received the money, he hung up. Conteh said he sent her a followup text saying he would come by her house the next day to explain the situation to her parents, but he never did.

‘It’s just devastating’

When her father came home a few hours later, Conteh told him what happened. 

They drove to the store to speak to the store clerk.

Michael Conteh said he was “very angry” and “shouting all over the place,” but the clerk pointed out the machine has stickers on it warning against the potential for fraud.

He said there was a large sum in his daughter’s account because she was laid off from her job at Tim Hortons in the spring and started collecting money through the Canada Emergency Response Benefit.

Worried that she might be found ineligible at some point, they let it accumulate rather than spend it.

They only dipped into it recently to pay her tuition for the first semester at the Nova Scotia Community College in Dartmouth, where she had just enrolled in child and youth care.

Sgt. Andrew Joyce of the Nova Scotia RCMP said he’s seen ‘so many lives ruined’ by similar scams. (CBC)

“Now that this money is gone, her education is finished. We can’t afford it … it’s just devastating,” he said.

Yeaweh Conteh said she’s heard of similar scams before, but it had never happened to her. She said she’s disappointed in herself for falling for it, and she’s now scared to answer her phone.

Watch for red flags: RCMP

The pair reported the incident to the RCMP, but learned there was little they could do to trace or retrieve the money.

Sgt. Andrew Joyce, media relations officer for Nova Scotia RCMP, confirmed Friday a fraud-related file has been opened and is under investigation. He said he’s seen “so many lives ruined” by these types of scams.

The victims and the specific details of the scam always change, he said, but they all have aspects in common.

“If you get a call from any authoritative agency and they are threatening you in any way shape or form …. that is a scam,” he said.

Joyce said another red flag is being asked to pay for something in cryptocurrency, gift cards or any other form of payment that is typically difficult to trace.

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