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B.C. man shocked after $700 drained from his Walmart gift cards



Kevin Wilson was thrilled when, as part of a Black Friday promotional deal, he got two Walmart gift cards totalling $700.

But when he went to a Walmart near his home in Surrey, B.C., this month to use his cards, Wilson was dismayed to discover they’d been drained — leaving him with a balance of just 27 cents.

According to transaction records, one card’s cash was spent at a Walmart in Richmond, B.C., and the other, at a Walmart in Mississauga, Ont. — far across the country.

“I was in shock. The cards hadn’t left my possession,” said Wilson. He added that the cards showed no signs of being tampered with.


“It was just like utter disbelief. How is this possible?”

A man is talking
Toronto-based cybersecurity analyst Ritesh Kotak says gift cards are attractive to fraudsters because they’re not registered in anyone’s name, and they’re easily accessible in stores. (Doug Husby/CBC)

Toronto-based cybersecurity analyst Ritesh Kotak says gift cards are attractive to fraudsters because they’re not registered in anyone’s name, and they’re easily accessible in stores.

“Unfortunately, people are getting scammed,” he said. “These fraudsters are becoming even more sneaky and sophisticated.”

The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre said that between January. to September, it had received more than 1,000 complaints from victims of gift and prepaid card fraud, totalling upward of $3 million in losses.

Kotak said those numbers will likely rise over the holidays, because the cards are a popular gift item.

“People are going to be victimized, but they’re not going to find out until after the holiday season when they try to use those gift cards.”

‘The light bulb went off’

After he got scammed, Wilson took it upon himself to investigate.

He said when he received his gift cards, he was so pleased that he briefly posted a photo of them on Facebook. The bar codes were visible in the photo, but Wilson didn’t think that was a problem, because the security code on each card was hidden.

But after doing some sleuthing, Wilson realized that his photo may have enabled fraudsters to access his cards. That’s because a shopper can make purchases at self-checkout with a Walmart gift card simply by scanning its bar code — or a photo of the bar code.

“The light bulb went off,” said Wilson. “There was a Eureka moment and I’m like, ‘No way, it couldn’t be that easy.'”

CBC News was able to make a purchase at Walmart’s self-checkout by loading a Walmart gift card with cash and then scanning a photo of its barcode. The security code on the back of the card was not required. (Sophia Harris/CBC)

As an experiment, CBC News loaded $5 on a Walmart gift card and attempted to purchase a $3 bag of walnuts at self-checkout by scanning a photo of the card’s bar code. The transaction went through, and the receipt showed the card’s remaining balance.

Walmart’s gift cards are worthless until customers load them with cash. Once loaded, the company requires shoppers to input a card’s hidden security code when using it to make purchases online, but not at self-checkout.

Wilson says a fraudster could easily take photos of a bunch of the cards’ bar codes at Walmart, and then try to buy goods with them at self-checkout at a later date — in the hopes the cards have since been loaded with cash.

“It’s sort of, like, egregious,” he said. “All the cards in Walmart are on bulk display. The bar codes are in plain sight.”


Scammers finding new ways to steal your gift card money

Scammers are finding new ways to deplete money from gift cards ahead of the holidays. Victims of these scams share their stories as cautionary tales. while experts offer tips for how to protect yourself from fraud.

Walmart Canada spokesperson Stephanie Fusco told CBC News that the retailer is investigating Wilson’s case and will reimburse him the missing $700 if it determines he’s a victim of fraud.

Fusco said Walmart has implemented measures to help protect customers from gift card scams, including signs in stores warning them not to share the information on their cards.

Another gift card scam

Nichelle Laus of Mississauga, Ont., almost fell for a different gift card scam. The former Ontario police officer posted her story on social media as a warning to others.

“It drives me crazy to have people victimized this way, especially during the holiday,” said Laus.

Her saga began in October when she tried to buy a $50 Winners gift card at Shoppers Drug Mart. She said the cashier felt the back of the card and informed Laus a fraudster had placed a sticker of another gift card’s bar code overtop of the Winners card’s bar code.

A gift card's barcode
Nichelle Laus discovered this gift card at Shoppers Drug Mart where the barcode on the back had been covered up by a sticker with a different barcode. (Sue Goodspeed/CBC)

Laus said the cashier then scanned the new bar code, which showed it belonged to an Esso gift card.

She said the cashier explained that if Laus had loaded $50 onto the Winners card, it would have wound up instead on a fraudster’s Esso card.

“The cashier was telling me it’s a big problem,” said Laus. “Had she not noticed — and I wouldn’t have noticed, I would have literally paid 50 bucks, gone away with my card, and it would literally be of no value.”

Earlier this month, Laus encountered the same scam when selecting a $100 Playstation gift card at another Shoppers. This time, it turned out the bar code placed over the original one belonged to a card for the LCBO, Ontario’s liquor stores.

“Had the transaction gone through, I would have loaded $100 on [the LCBO card],” she said.

Loblaw, which owns Shoppers, told CBC News gift card scams are widespread and that its employees are trained to recognize the fraud, including bar code tampering.

Cybersecurity analyst Kotak said that for a few hundred dollars, scammers can easily acquire the necessary software, printer and labels to replicate bar codes.

“If you’re putting these labels on hundreds of gift cards across the country, you’ll be able to recoup your investment very quickly,” he said.

To protect people from gift card fraud, both Kotak and Laus recommend retailers keep the cards behind the counter, so fraudsters can’t tamper with them.

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A shortage of pilots is making travel chaos in Canada even worse



From pandemic-related travel restrictions to extreme weather events, Canada’s travel industry has navigated an unprecedented amount of uncertainty of late. And now, just as demand for travel has returned to its 2019 level, airlines are navigating their next patch of turbulence: a lack of qualified pilots.

According to Transport Canada, in a typical pre-pandemic year, roughly 1,100 pilot licences were issued. When complemented by foreign-trained pilots, that was generally more than enough to satisfy the needs of carriers as large as WestJet and Air Canada, all the way down to regional, charter and cargo airlines.

But as demand for flying collapsed in 2020, so did the number of new pilots getting their paperwork. Government data shows less than 500 licences were awarded in 2020, a figure that fell to less than 300 in 2021 and just 238 last year.

The department told CBC News in a statement that while labour shortages in the airline sector has been “identified as a priority area for action,” there are no current plans to loosen regulations. But the agency says it’s doing what it can to “increase the competitiveness of the Canadian flight training industry as well as improve the viability of aviation careers to address any shortages.”


Whatever changes do come will do little to help anyone in the short term, and travellers are already seeing the impact of the industry’s current labour crunch.

Staff shortages were a factor in charter airline Sunwing’s cancellation of 67 flights over the last two weeks of December, along with extreme weather.

Salaries for experienced pilots generally go up faster and higher at the major airlines than they do at most others, they are so typically able to have their pick among those available. That causes shortages just about everywhere else.

The head of the Air Transport Association of Canada says it’s a problem that had been brewing for many years, even before the pandemic.

“We haven’t had enough pilots for a long time, mostly at the regional level,” John McKenna said.

Long, expensive process

Getting a commercial licence is the last step in a multi-year process of becoming a pilot, a journey that can cost tens of thousands of dollars and take years.

In Canada, for many that journey ends with a dream job at either WestJet or Air Canada, but because of the expense and time commitment of training a new pilot, the major airlines often hire top staff from smaller carriers instead of methodically developing their own.

“Their fishing grounds is the regional carriers. And the regional carriers go down to the smaller carriers, air taxi groups … those levels have been hurting for many years,” McKenna said.

Canada’s two biggest airlines told CBC News in emailed statements that while there is indeed a higher than normal demand for pilots right now, both of them are managing to meet their needs.

“As a large global carrier operating the most modern, largest aircraft, we are a very desirable destination for talented pilots,” AIr Canada said. “As a result, we are able to attract pilots as required.”

“We have and continue to responsibly manage and plan our operations to meet the anticipated demand of our guests and are fully staffed across our network to support our operation,” WestJet said.

That’s not the case for everyone else. Small airlines often have so few pilots on staff that it doesn’t take the loss of very many to stop planes from flying.

Dave Boston
Dave Boston is a licensed pilot and also runs a job board to help other pilots find work. (Dave Boston)

In the fall, Sunwing applied to bring in more than 60 temporary foreign workers to meet demand for pilots, but that application was rejected, which exacerbated the chaos seen at the end of 2022. The airline has since cancelled almost all flights out of Saskatchewan and most out of Manitoba for the rest of the winter travel season.

Pandemic reduced numbers, too

It’s not just the big boys gobbling up all the qualified pilots, either. Many simply left the profession during the pandemic.

“Two years ago, to the day, literally almost every pilot [was] out of work,” says Dave Boston, a pilot with 25 years experience who’s also the man behind Edmonton-based aviation job board, Pilot Career Centre.

Faced with furloughs and layoffs at airlines big and small, many pilots tried to wait it out, but many simply moved on, he told CBC News in an interview.

“Many who had businesses or other interests, after maybe six months to a year, had to put food on the table, and they left the industry,” Boston said.

For the pilots who are left, headhunting is the new normal. He says he hears from desperate airlines every day, because they either can’t find the staff, or just lost yet another one. “It’s very common for pilots, unfortunately, to work there for six months [then] get a surprise interview that they don’t expect to get, and then they’re gone,” he said.

“It’s a real challenge right now.”

Zona Savic, right, listens to her instructor inside the cockpit of a flight simulator unit at Seneca College. Savic has long dreamt of being a pilot, and a lack of qualified flyers means she should have plenty of job prospects once she graduates.
Zona Savic, right, listens to her instructor inside the cockpit of a flight simulator unit at Seneca College. Savic has long dreamt of being a pilot, and a lack of qualified flyers means she should have plenty of job prospects once she graduates. (Shawn Benjamin/CBC)

One person hoping to meet that challenge is Zona Savic, a soon-to-be graduate of one of Canada’s premier aviation schools, Seneca College in Peterborough, Ont.

While she had planned to go into engineering, she joined the Air Cadets while in high school, and was quickly bitten by the aviation bug.

“I just knew from the moment that I was in that plane, this is what I was going to do,” she told CBC News in an interview.

She’s on track to get her pilot’s licence soon, and while she may do additional training to become an instructor herself, she says it’s a load off her mind to know that she won’t have to worry about finding a job.

And even better for the industry, she has no qualms about working her way up at smaller carriers flying niche, remote routes.

” I just love the feeling of flying, so if that’s what I’m doing, I don’t really care if I’m in Paris, or in Nunavut,” she says. “Anything is good for me, as long as I get to experience that.”


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Q4 economic growth slows to 1.6% as aggressive hikes bite



Canada’s economy geared down at the end of 2022, growing at about half the pace of the third quarter and setting the stage for a period of little to no growth.

Preliminary data suggest gross domestic product was flat in December as increases in retail, utilities and the public sector were offset by decreases in the wholesale, finance and oil and gas industries, Statistics Canada reported Tuesday in Ottawa. That followed a 0.1 per cent gain in November, which matched economist expectations in a Bloomberg survey, and a 0.1 per cent increase in October.

Overall, the monthly gains point to annualized growth in the fourth quarter of 1.6 per cent, according to an initial estimate from the statistics agency. Though it will likely be revised, it’s down sharply from a 2.9 per cent pace in the third quarter, 3.2 per cent during April to June, and 2.8 per cent in the first three months of last year.

The numbers show that higher interest rates, which have jumped 425 basis points since last March, are slowing economic activity and weighing on consumption. The lagged effects of the Bank of Canada’s aggressive tightening campaign are expected to drag growth to a halt this year, with economists seeing two quarters of shallow contraction in the first half of 2023.


That’s a key reason why Governor Tiff Macklem and his officials said this month they plan to hold the benchmark overnight lending rate at 4.5 per cent if growth and inflation evolve broadly in line with their outlook. While the 1.6 per cent growth in the final quarter is slightly stronger than policymakers forecast last week, signs of slowing demand are mounting.

“The economy hasn’t yet absorbed the impact of past rate hikes,” James Orlando, an economist at Toronto-Dominion Bank, said in a report to investors. “Even though today’s growth numbers are holding up well, the BoC can feel comfortable keeping its policy on cruise control a little while longer.”

In November, growth in services-producing industries was partially offset by a decline in the goods sectors, the statistics agency said. Interest-rate increases continued to dampen activity for real estate agents and brokers, residential building construction, and legal services which have been trending downward since spring.

Construction dropped 0.7 per cent, with new construction of single detached homes and home improvement leading the decline. Accommodation and food services contracted 1.4 per cent on lower activity in bars and restaurants. Retail trade decreased 0.6 per cent, with the food and beverage subsector falling to its lowest level since April 2018.

The central bank expected fourth-quarter growth of 1.3 per cent annualized, while economists in Bloomberg surveys predicted a gain of 0.9 per cent. Official data for December and the fourth quarter will be released Feb. 28.

Based on initial estimates, Canada’s economy expanded 3.8 per cent in 2022, broadly in line the Bank of Canada’s estimate for a 3.6 per cent growth.

“The overriding message is that the economy is just managing to keep its head above water, which squarely fits with the BoC’s view,” Doug Porter, chief economist at Bank of Montreal, said in a report to investors.


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Nike sues Lululemon, says footwear infringes patents



Nike sued Lululemon Athletica on Monday, saying that at least four of the Canadian athletic apparel company’s footwear products infringe its patents.

Nike in a complaint filed in Manhattan federal court said it has suffered economic harm and irreparable injury from Lululemon’s sale of its Blissfeel, Chargefeel Low, Chargefeel Mid and Strongfeel footwear.

Nike said its three patents at issue concern textile and other elements, including one addressing how the footwear will perform when force is applied.

The Beaverton, Oregon-based company is seeking unspecified damages.


Lululemon, based in Vancouver, British Columbia, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; editing by Christopher Cushing) 


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