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RCMP victimized by $100,000 credit card cloning scam

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The Royal Canadian Mounted Police has changed the way it handles credit cards for gasoline purchases after it fell victim to organized criminals and the fraud went undetected for months.

By the time the RCMP realized one of its gas cards had been cloned, the crooks had racked up $104,555 in purchases.

The force may not be the only victim.

“The way that cloning works, it could be hundreds of people whose information was cloned also,” said Sergeant Camille Habel, spokeswoman for the RCMP’s Quebec division.

The credit card company absorbed $14,555 of the charges — the amount the force was able to identify within the period provided in its agreement with the company. It hopes to recover another $9,930.

However, the force admits it is unlikely to recover the remaining $80,070.

Habel said investigators have determined that the crime was the work of an organized group. They have identified suspects and are consulting Crown prosecutors on charges.

The revelation that the RCMP had been defrauded was included in the annual Public Accounts tabled recently in Parliament.

Habel said it all began in the summer of 2016.

RCMP Sgt. Camille Habel said hundreds of others could have been hit by the same criminals. (CBC)

“Sometime in the summer of 2016, one of the credit cards that the RCMP uses to purchase gas at gas stations was cloned. Eventually when we audited the card we realized that the card had been defrauded and we opened an investigation.”

The cards require a driver’s code but don’t have chip technology.

Habel said the purchases — mostly gasoline — were made in the Greater Montreal area.

Unlike personal credit cards, the bills for the RCMP’s gas acquisition cards don’t go to individual officers. There’s also no predictable pattern when it comes to how often a car or acquisition card will be used, which made it harder for the people who handle the bills to spot the fraudsters until the card was routinely audited.

“For sure there was a delay between the time the card was cloned and the suspects started using the card and when we discovered that it was actually happening.”

While Habel would not say when exactly the RCMP discovered the gas card had been cloned, losses are usually supposed to be reported in the Public Accounts in the year they are detected. That would put the discovery somewhere between April 1, 2017 and March 31, 2018.

The crooks racked up $104,555 in gas purchases in the Greater Montreal area before the RCMP discovered the fraud. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

Habel said the RCMP has already made changes to avoid falling victim to a similar scheme.

“We reviewed our auditing system and the details that we look for every month, so now we audit more often in a different way and we’re also working with the credit card company to see if there are ways that fraudulent purchases like that can be spotted faster and quicker so if it falls on a month that we didn’t audit that we would get a signal from the company telling us that there were some transactions that are different or that are not similar to what we usually do.”

Aaron Boles, vice-president communications for the Canadian Bankers Association, said new chip technology has resulted in a significant drop in the number of bank cards and credit cards being compromised by criminals.

“Skimming a card and cloning the magnetic strip is no longer a widespread problem in the Canadian market since the implementation of chip and PIN,” he said. “This type of occurrence is at an all-time low.”

The Financial Consumer Agency of Canada said it received 106 complaints last year about credit card fraud.

Elizabeth Thompson can be reached at elizabeth.thompson@cbc.ca

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7 Tips For First-Time Home Buyers In Calgary

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Buying a house for the first time can be overwhelming to say the least. If you’re wondering what neighbourhood to go with, what you can afford, or even how to just get started on the process, let us take some stress off your hands! We’ve teamed up with Hopewell Residential to give you 7 tips to ensure the home you end up with is everything you dreamed of.

Hopewell Residential is a five-time Developer of the Year award winner, so their expertise is second-to-none in Calgary and beyond. Who better to learn home-buying tips from than the homebuilders themselves?

Create a checklist of needs & wants

This is a biggie. When you’re buying your very first home, you’ll want to weigh your needs vs. your wants. Ensuring you have what you love in your first home is a big, big deal.

What should you do? Easy. Set up a list of needs and a list of wants, but be pretty strict with yourself, and make sure you take your lifestyle into consideration. With the increase in remote work over the past year, it’s important to keep in mind that a home office or flex room might just be the key to maximizing at home happiness. Especially if you’re thinking you might be expanding your family later on, spare rooms and extra space is key (but more on that later!).

Or for instance, you might need a home in an area with a high walkability score, but you want to be close to certain amenities. Set yourself up with the right level of compromise and the number of homes that actually fit your ‘perfect’ idea will skyrocket.

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‘Don’t give up’: Ottawa Valley realtors share statistics, tips for homebuyers in ‘extreme’ sellers market

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The real estate market in the Ottawa Valley can be summed up this way: people from far and wide are in a buying frenzy, but there’s hardly anything to buy at the “store,” and the limited inventory is overpriced.

This “stampede” — as one realtor described it — will affect rural towns as residents grapple with finding affordable housing and agonize over their inability to purchase homes in their price range.

“We are seeing a lack of inventory in all price ranges,” said Laura Keller, a real estate agent from Carleton Place.

Helen Vincent, a Renfrew realtor, said she’s never seen a market like this in her 36 years of practice. “We postpone offers for four to five days in order to get all the buyers,” she said.

Multiple offers — between seven and 10 — became the norm, with cash offers and no conditions, as buyers faced bidding wars. “In Ottawa, they have up to 50 (offers),” she added.

“It’s very stressful. You’re going to get nine (people) ticked off, and one happy. So many people are disappointed,” Vincent said.

Terry Stavenow, an Arnprior realtor for 40 years, said that “the pent-up need took over with inventory going low. It made a stampede on everything that was available.“

“Brand new housing — it’s very much gone. Several building developers are rushing to get inventory. They usually don’t do construction in the winter months,” said Stavenow.

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10 Tips For First-Time Home Buyers

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Buying a home for the first time is exciting and a commitment to the future. It’s often challenging, too, and the process requires a lot of steps, many of which can be tricky to navigate as a first-time home buyer.

What are some things you should keep in mind as a first-time home buyer?

First-Time Home Buyer Tips

Here are 10 tips to keep in mind as you begin your journey toward homeownership.

1. Have Your Finances in Order

It’s wise to begin saving as early as possible once you’ve made the decision to purchase a house. You’ll need to consider the down payment, closing costs (which often range from 2% to 5% of the down payment), as well as move-in expenses.

You also need to understand the other costs of homeownership, such as mortgage insurance. property taxes, utilities, homeowner’s insurance, and more.

2. How Much Can You Afford?

Knowing how much you can realistically afford in a home is another important financial consideration. Look for the home of your dreams that fits your budget.

One way to avoid future financial stress is to set a price range for your home that fits your budget, and then staying within that range. Going through the preapproval process will help you understand what price range is realistic for your budget.

3. Make Sure Your Credit is Good

Another thing to keep in mind as a first-time home buyer is your credit score because it determines whether you qualify for a mortgage and affects the interest rate that lenders offer. 

You can check your credit score from the three credit bureaus – Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion.

This is another good reason for getting preapproved before you start your search. Learn more about the preapproval process and your credit score.

4. Choose The Right Real Estate Agent

A good real estate agent guides you through the process every step of the way. He or she will help you find a home that fits your needs, help you through the financial processes, and help ease any first-time buyer anxiety you may have.

Interview several agents and request references.

5. Research Mortgage Options

A variety of mortgages are available, including conventional mortgages – which are guaranteed by the government – FHA loans, USDA loans, and VA loans (for veterans).

You’ll also have options regarding the mortgage term. A 30-year fixed-rate mortgage is popular among many homebuyers and has an interest rate that doesn’t change over the course of the loan. A 15-year loan usually has a lower interest rate but monthly payments are larger.

6. Talk to Multiple Lenders

It’s worth your time to talk to several lenders and banks before you accept a mortgage offer. The more you shop around, the better deal you’re liable to get – and it may save you thousands of dollars.

7. Get Preapproved First

Getting a mortgage preapproval (in the form of a letter) before you begin hunting for homes is something else to put on your checklist. A lender’s preapproval letter states exactly how much loan money you can get.

Learn more about the preapproval process and how preapproval provides you with a significant competitive advantage in our article How Preapproval Gives You Home Buying Power.

8. Pick the Right House and Neighborhood

Make sure to weigh the pros and cons of the different types of homes based on your budget, lifestyle, etc. Would a condominium or townhome fit your needs better than a house? What type of neighborhood appeals to you?

9. List Your Needs and Must-Haves

The home you purchase should have as many of the features you prefer as possible. List your needs in order of priority; some things may be non-negotiable to you personally.

10. Hire an Inspector

Hiring an inspector is another crucial step in the home buying process. An inspector will tell you about existing or potential problems with the home, and also what’s in good order. You can learn more about home inspections and how to find a home inspector through the American Society of Home Inspectors website.

Buying a home for the first time is a challenge, but it’s one you can handle with the right planning and preparation.

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