Calgary police warn citizens of new mass-marketing extortion scam

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Police have issued a warning about a new form of mass-marketing fraud, which is believed to be run by international fraudsters targeting victims around the world.

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According to a news release, the scam has resulted in 22 reports from Calgarians to local police in the past six weeks.

Police say victims typically receive an unsolicited text message from an international number, with the scammer claiming the victim owes between $500 and $8,000 for using personal services. If payment isn’t received, the scammer proceeds to send the victim graphic and violent photos in an effort to intimidate sending payment, along with threats that they or their family may be targeted.

Based on reports, three victims have lost a combined total of $4,000.

“Mass-marketing fraud is a crime that uses low or no-cost mass-marketing tools with a goal of defrauding the victims with a promise, story or threat,” said Staff Sgt. Geoff Gawlinski of the Calgary Police Service economic crimes unit. “As technology advances, so do the tactics of fraudsters, as they are able to cast a wide net to reach people around the world in hopes of capitalizing on the fear and emotions of potential victims.”

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In most cases reported to police, the fraudster uses the name Edgar Ortega Valdez, along with the phone number 562-579-8694.

The news release said online extortion scams can be difficult to investigate because scammers often reside in different cities and countries. However, it’s still important for victims to report incidents to police so crime trends can be tracked.

Red flags to look out for with mass-marketing scams can include misspelled email addresses, websites, links or spelling errors in the messages themselves. Additionally, citizens should be cautious of suspicious attachments or links, urgent requests with threats of legal action or physical harm, payment requested in the form of prepaid gift cards, wire money transfers or other forms of non-secure payment.

Calgary police are encouraging anyone who has suffered a financial loss as a result of fraud to report it by calling the non-emergency number at 403-226-1234. Tips can also be submitted anonymously through Crime Stoppers.

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