In hindsight, Donna Rindress says there was a clear red flag during her taxi ride home last week that ended with her bank account drained and her life upended.
After a night out with friends, the Montreal woman hailed a cab at Bishop Street and Ste-Catherine Street West. She said the ride seemed completely normal — in fact, even better than usual.
"He was so nice. He was more helpful than any taxi driver I've ever had. Maybe that should have triggered something," said Rindress, who uses an electric wheelchair that she said the driver helped fold up and fit into the vehicle.
She said the only unusual thing that happened appeared to be an innocuous technical difficulty with the cabbie's credit card machine — a scam tactic she's now warning others to be wary of.
"He said, 'Oh I'm so sorry, my Visa machine isn't working, but I can still take debit,'" said Rindress.
The driver then did what one bankers association says is happening more and more frequently. He took Rindress's debit card, swiftly swapped it out for a nearly identical one and had her type her PIN into a fake payment machine to steal it.
Within an hour, almost $10,000 was removed from Rindress's bank account without her believing anything to be amiss.
Fraudster spent $1,000 at dépanneur
Shortly after arriving home, Rindress began receiving text alerts from her bank, CIBC, notifying her of unusual activity on her account.
By the time she realized she'd been duped and managed to reach the fraud department, she said $5,000 had already been withdrawn from her account.
"He went into my line of credit, went into my credit card, my overdraft, you name it," Rindress said. Looking at her online banking, she said she could see more and more money draining out of her accounts while on the phone with the bank.
According to Rindress's bank statements, the scammer made several withdrawals from the same ATM in Montreal's Parc-Extension neighbourhood. He also spent $1,000 at a nearby dépanneur.
Scam too common to investigate, victim alleges
When contacted by CBC Montreal, CIBC said protecting its clients is a "clear priority."
"When we identify an issue or one is reported to us, we work quickly to investigate and resolve the matter, as we did for our client in this case," the statement reads.
But Rindress wants to know how $10,000 could have been taken out of her accounts in the first place.
"I have a lot of limits on my account for presumably this reason. And [the scammer] seems to have bypassed most of them," she said.
WATCH | Victim of taxi debit scam explains how fraudster duped her:
Rindress said the bank told her an investigation into her case could take up to 10 days and then, the money might be returned.
"When I heard the 'might,' that started worrying me a bit more," she said.
Rindress said she called the police, against the advice of her bank, but said she was surprised to learn they wouldn't let her file a police report.
"[The officer] said, 'well, I'm not going to come and take a report because this is too common and we don't have the time or resources to investigate,'" Rindress said. She said the officer told her to call him back to file a report if her money wasn't reimbursed.
When reached for comment, Montreal police said they were not available to respond to a request from CBC Montreal.
Within two weeks of the fraud, Rindress had all of the funds returned to her account.
How to avoid becoming a victim
The Canadian Bankers Association (CBA) says taxi scams such as the one Rindress fell prey to are on the rise, but there are steps customers can take to avoid becoming a victim.
"Be skeptical," it said in a statement. "Taxis do accept cash, even during the pandemic, so if someone tries to convince you otherwise, this is a red flag."
The CBA said never to hand over your card to a driver or, if you must, ensure that the card that is returned is your card.
It said to be wary of fake wireless payment machines or those not connected to the internet. "If something seems strange, don't go through with the transaction."
Rindress said she's learned her lesson and will be extra cautious when, or if, she takes another cab.
"If I do take a taxi, I'm going to be hyper aware of, you know, the taxi driver permit and the picture and everything that's going on," she said.
"I certainly won't let my card out of my hand again."