For the second time in less than a year, the RCMP have dismantled an alleged telemarketing fraud operation said to have bilked victims through Western Union and MoneyGram money transfer outlets based in Montreal.

The Mounties carried out raids Tuesday on 16 Western Union and MoneyGram depots in St. Laurent, Ste. Genevieve, Roxboro and Pierrefonds.  The outlets were allegedly used to collect $3.5 million from victims through three different scams:

  • The "grandson" scam, where someone posing as the victims' grandson says they need money because they're in trouble in a foreign country.  The victim sends the money and never hears from the person again.

  • The "lottery" scam, a time-honoured scheme in which a person receives a call from a telemarketer offering a cash prize.  The victim is asked to send amounts up to $60,000 to claim the prize, but the jackpot never arrives.

  • The "mystery shopper" scam, which involves sending a cheque and asking victims to participate in a consumer survey by sending back a portion of the cheque and keeping the rest.  The cheque later bounces, of course.

RCMP investigators with the Centre of Operations Linked to Telemarketing Fraud (COLT) are leading the police operation. The SQ, Montreal police and the Canada Border Services Agency are also involved.  The alleged ringleaders could face charges in the near future, an RCMP spokeswoman said Tuesday.  Most of the 1,050 victims were seniors in the United States and Canada.

RCMP Warning

The Mounties reinterated a warning they have made many times in the past -- don't pay up front for promises of goods or services to come later.

"Essentially, all mass marketing scams require victims to send money in the form of a certified cheque, money order or money transfer to receive a prize, a product or a service," the RCMP said in a news release.

"In this case, the fraudsters take advantage of the kindness and sensibility of the victims."

Another major bust 

Last July, police arrested seven people in connection with a scam involving the same wire transfer companies.

In that case, the suspects allegedly ran lottery scams and committed identity theft through a series of stores in LaSalle, Verdun and Lachine.

In all, 25 different Montreal businesses were raided -- all offering Western Union or MoneyGram services.

More than 500 people were victims of the alleged fraud.