Woman who lost $35K in distraction theft feels ‘victimized’ twice after bank denies reimbursement

A Calgary woman who recently fell victim to a so-called “distraction theft” says she feels victimized twice since it happened back in early March: first, during the crime and afterwards, by one of her banks.

Indu Paul said it all started back on March 8, when she was sitting in a grocery store parking lot.

‘There was a person that knocked on my window,” she recounted. “He said, ‘You need to look, there is an issue with your tire.’”

Paul said, on impulse, she leaped out of the car to look at the tire but didn’t see anything wrong with it.

Paul said the man then advised her to look again, this time at the tire on the other side of her vehicle.

Again, she said, no issues. The problems started, she said, when she got home.

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“I come home and my cellphone dings,” she said. “There’s an email from American Express that there was a charge and they denied it.”

She decided to check her wallet to see which credit card it was, because she had two.

“I opened my wallet. There’s not a single card in there.”

Calgary woman Indu Paul, who was distracted by thieves, is now fighting to get her money back.

Paul quickly contacted the police and her two banks. They all launched fraud investigations into the lost money which Paul said came to thousands of dollars.

“I would say $35,000,” she said.

While she said Scotiabank quickly reimbursed her the money, the Bank of Montreal did not — leaving her with about $10,000 unrecovered.

The bank told Paul in an email that after careful review, “We determined the outstanding transactions could not be reimbursed as your Personal Identification Number (PIN) was based on personal information.”

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BMO went on to say as per all banking agreements clients agree to select a PIN that is not based on personal information.

Paul told Global News she had no idea what the bank considered “personal information.”

“Can you please define what is personal information?” she questioned. “Like, it could be my dog’s date of birth or whatever!”

“Twice. I’ve been scammed twice. One they did it and now the bank.”

Police say that in distraction crimes, the scammer often observes a victim enter a card PIN — also known as shoulder-surfing — during a transaction and will signal an accomplice to proceed with a distraction tactic to steal the victim’s debit and credit cards.

Click to play video: '‘They can clean you completely out’: Seniors being defrauded using distraction technique'

‘They can clean you completely out’: Seniors being defrauded using distraction technique

Calgary Police Servic Const. Shawn Vandal has been trying to help Paul and other victims get back their money from these distraction thefts.

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He told Global News thieves are crafty and slick: not only do they target their victims outside of stores and other public places, but they’re likely following them inside as well.

“They’re observing people at the tills and watching them enter their PIN numbers,” he said. “They’re then stealing those and distracting them at their cars.”

“They’re working together in an organized fashion,” he added.

“They’re like a well-oiled machine.”

Vandal was part of the team that helped crack this recent string of distraction thefts, which he said was widespread, and lead to the arrest of three men.

“They were travelling across Canada and Alberta. We managed to apprehend them on the 9th of March.”

Staying vigilant against distraction thefts

Vandal said while these suspects have been caught, the problem of distraction theft is not over. He suggested people stay vigilant as well as a few other tips:

  • Observe who is around you
  • Don’t let strangers get too close or invade your space
  • Have different PIN numbers for different cards/accounts
  • Keep some cards at home

Still, he doesn’t believe Paul or any of the other victims did anything wrong, adding they shouldn’t be punished by their banks.

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He has reached out to BMO on Paul’s account and it has now reopened her file.

The Bank of Montreal has also confirmed to Global News it is investigating what happened.

As for Paul, she doesn’t believe she is being treated fairly, and she has withdrawn all of her money from BMO. Still, she hopes the bank reconsiders.

“$10,000 doesn’t mean a lot to BMO, but it means a lot to me.”

Click to play video: 'Vancouver police warn about distraction thefts'

Vancouver police warn about distraction thefts

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