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Banks blame customers duped by fake cheques in online job scams –



Ivy Hotchkiss remembers the moment last December when she realized she was the victim of an elaborate online job scam.

“I sat on the floor in shock and disbelief,” said Hotchkiss. “Just clutching my computer, thinking, ‘What am I going to do?'”

The 22-year-old Toronto student had spent weeks looking online for part-time work, to help cover expenses in her final year at college.

“I had applied to every Tim Horton’s, every McDonald’s,” Hotchkiss told Go Public.

She thought she had finally secured a job working from home as a data entry clerk for Aritzia — a trendy women’s clothing chain, based in Vancouver.

“They offered me $30 an hour, which I thought was amazing,” she said. “I immediately said yes.”

Her new employer sent a cheque for $3,485, instructing her to e-transfer those funds to an office supply company to purchase needed equipment.

She deposited the cheque, watched her balance increase, waited 48 hours to make sure the money remained in her account and then sent the e-transfer.

Two days later, the cheque bounced. She had lost the money in an elaborate scam involving a fake Aritzia website, fake employment contract, fake managers, a fake office furniture company and — most devastating — a fake cheque. 

“That was going to be my food and rent for the next month,” said Hotchkiss. “It was the most panicked feeling I’ve ever felt.”

TD Bank told Hotchkiss that she was to blame, because she’d deposited a counterfeit cheque.

After Go Public made inquiries, TD offered to reimburse her as a one-time “goodwill gesture.”

Scammers lured Hotchkiss by posing as job recruiters for Aritzia, a national women’s clothing company. (Erica Johnson/CBC)

Hotchkiss is one of a growing number of people hoodwinked by a pandemic-fuelled explosion in job scams, according to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC).

In the first nine months of this year, the CAFC received reports from almost 1,400 victims who lost just over $8 million — almost double the losses reported in 2020.

A professor of consumer protection law at Ryerson University in Toronto says financial institutions need to do more to protect customers from falling prey to fake cheques, particularly in this turbulent job market.

“For banks to protect customers from fraud takes resources, time and money,” said Daniel Tsai. “It seems they’d rather be spending that to sell GICs, mortgages and basically increasing their bottom lines.”

The scammers had told Hotchkiss to order equipment from Tech Insight Services — the same phoney company involved in a similar scam reported by Go Public last year.

She says she fell for the elaborate ruse because TD accepted the cheque and her balance remained high for two days, before she sent the e-transfer.

The counterfeit cheque scammers sent to Hotchkiss, supposedly to cover office equipment. She believed the cheque was real, because her TD Bank account indicated an increased balance. (Submitted by Ivy Hotchkiss)

“I’m frustrated that the bank allowed the money to appear as if it was there,” said Hotchkiss. “It’s totally misleading.”

Hotchkiss filed a police report and a complaint with TD, but the bank said she was responsible and the money had already been accepted by fraudsters.

Then TD suggested that it put a security measure on her account, preventing access to funds from future cheques until they have been verified. 

Hotchkiss wonders why she hadn’t been offered this protection before.

“It should be standard for all the Canadian banks to delay deposits until they can be proven they’re legitimate cheques,” she said. “It would prevent this scam from happening to anyone else.”

Go Public asked TD why it doesn’t give customers that option.

Daniel Tsai teaches consumer protection law at Ryerson University. He says financial institutions should do more to educate customers about fake cheques. (Greg Bruce/CBC)

TD didn’t address that question, but in an email, a spokesperson included a link to the bank’s hold funds policy, which explains that, when a cheque is deposited, the bank is essentially offering credit until the cheque clears.

If the cheque eventually bounces, the customer owes the money to the bank — similar to policies at all of Canada’s big banks.

“Bank account agreements are so pro-bank that they absolve the banks of any liability,” said Tsai.

“They usually have clauses in there to ensure that they are not responsible for the customer losing funds due to fraud.”

He says it wouldn’t be difficult for financial institutions to let customers know that cheques can take days or even weeks to clear, by sending out texts and emails.

“They do it to sell us mortgages, loans and investments,” said Tsai. “They can surely do this to protect their customers who have worked hard for their money.”

Henrietta Fleischer says she asked a Simplii Financial agent several times whether money from this fake cheque was actually in her account, and was told it was. (Submitted by Henrietta Fleischer)

Bank said money was in account

Henrietta Fleischer got similarly duped because an employee at her bank said the money was in her account.

The Toronto mother of four had just returned to Canada from Ghana last year and was looking for a second job to support her family. She believed she’d been hired as a data entry clerk by the transportation company Ryder.

But before e-transferring $3,475 for non-existent office furniture, Fleischer called Simplii Financial (an online subsidiary of CIBC) to make sure the money was actually in her account.

She was told it was. 

“I wouldn’t have gone ahead with the transfer if I knew the money wasn’t in the account,” she said. 

Even after listening to the phone recording, Simplii insisted Fleischer was at fault for depositing a fraudulent cheque.

“After every call with the bank, I’d just be shedding tears,” she said. “I’m like, ‘Oh my god, don’t let these people tell me I’ve lost it [the money].'”

After she wrote several letters and filed a complaint with the bank’s ombudsman, Simplii gave the money back — with no explanation or apology. 

In a statement to Go Public, a spokesperson said: “Protecting our clients from fraud is important to us and we advise clients to be cautious when accessing funds until cheques are cleared.”

‘Banks should enhance efforts’

Two months ago, the Better Business Bureau released a report on job scams, saying banks should do more to warn customers about fake cheque scams.

The study found that job scams have been growing since 2017 — targeting people across North America between ages 25-34.

“The estimated losses [over the past four years] is $2 billion,” said Simone Lis, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Mainland B.C. “This is crazy large.”

Of those caught in job scams, says the report, 36 per cent are misled by counterfeit cheques.

“In the bank’s desire to provide a service and get money to consumers as quickly as they want, it’s created this opportunity for scammers,” said Lis.

Financial institutions must “play a greater role in educating and saying, ‘No, that money is not there,'” she said. 

Hotchkiss graduated last spring and, this time, used an employment agency to find work — full-time at an automotive assembly plant in Guelph, Ont.

“It’s turning out to be a wonderful job,” she said. Still, she says, she’ll never forget the heartbreak of losing all her savings to scammers.

“I really hope that all of the banks change their systems,” said Hotchkiss.

“Cheques must be looked at and confirmed that they are legitimate before the money is deposited and accessible in customers’ accounts.”

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Stocks sink on Powell’s hawkish taper remarks, Omicron alarm –



Fed Chair Jerome Powell signalled the United States central bank would consider speeding up its withdrawal of bond purchases as inflation risks increase. That further upset markets already battered by the looming threat of the Omicron COVID-19 variant.

Wall Street’s main indexes closed lower on Tuesday after Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell signalled that the United States central bank would consider speeding up its withdrawal of bond purchases as inflation risks increase, piling pressure onto a market already nervous about the latest COVID-19 variant.

In testimony before the Senate Banking Committee, Powell indicated that he no longer considers high inflation as “transitory” and that the Fed would revisit the timeline for scaling back its bond-buying programme at its next meeting in two weeks.

The S&P 500 – a proxy for the health of retirement and college savings accounts – lost 88.27 points, or 1.9 percent, to end at 4,567 points, while the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite Index lost 245.14 points, or 1.55 percent, to 15,537.69. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 652.11 points, or 1.86 percent, to 34,483.72.

“Powell’s comments threw a monkey in the wrench in market thinking in terms of potential taper timing. You’re seeing as a result of that, risk-off across the board,” said Michael James, managing director of equity trading at Wedbush Securities in Los Angeles.

“You also have to factor in the Omicron variant concerns. You can argue whether they’re more headline risk or reality risk but regardless, it’s having a significant impact on oil, and everything that’s tied to economic growth.”

Powell’s comments also prompted speculation among some investors about a potential acceleration in interest rate hikes.

“The principal contributor to the decline in stock prices today is the Powell commentary, regarding the upcoming Fed meeting, about accelerating the tapering of their bond-buying programme, which obviously leads to the prospect that rate hikes come sooner next year,” said Mark Luschini, chief investment strategist at Janney Montgomery Scott in Philadelphia.

“That somewhat hawkish shift in tone caught the market flat-footed,” Luschini said.

Meanwhile, the market was also left waiting for information about how dangerous the Omicron variant might be, the degree to which current coronavirus vaccinations could offer protection and the additional restrictions governments might have to impose that could hurt the economy, Luschini said.

Tuesday’s declines were broad-based, with all the 11 major S&P sectors down. Communication services was the lead decliner by late afternoon. As oil prices tumbled, energy was also under pressure throughout the session.

Monday’s rally saw stocks regain some of the ground they had lost on Friday when the market first sold off on news of the virus variant.

While the US Food and Drug Administration said it hopes to have information about the effectiveness of current COVID-19 vaccines against Omicron, vaccine companies appeared divided.

BioNTech’s chief executive said the BioNTech and Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine will likely offer strong protection against severe disease from the variant, while Moderna Inc’s CEO told the Financial Times that COVID-19 shots are unlikely to be as effective against the new variant as they have been previously.

Moderna shares fell while those of Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc were also under pressure after it said its COVID-19 antibody treatment and other similar drugs could be less effective against Omicron.

Travel and leisure stocks slumped, with S&P 1500 Airlines and the S&P 1500 Hotels, Restaurant and Leisure indexes both declining on concerns of more border restrictions.

The virus uncertainty has triggered fresh alarm at a time when supply chain logjams are weighing on economic recovery and central banks globally are contemplating a return to pre-pandemic monetary policy to tackle a surge in inflation.

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Why Canada is unlocking its vault of maple syrup –



Canada’s maple syrup industry has become an international focus in recent days, with headlines shouting that the country has been forced to tap into its strategic reserve to make up for shortages.

Quebec produces about 73 per cent of the all maple syrup in the world. And the Quebec Maple Syrup Producers (QMSP), an organization that governs the province’s maple syrup producers, has said it will release about 22.7 million kilograms of maple syrup from its strategic reserve into the market by February.

For some, the headlines may have been an eye-opener that Canada even has a stockpile of maple syrup. CBC Explains the purpose of this reserve, why it had to be tapped into, and explores whether there was ever a shortage of maple syrup.

What is the strategic reserve?

Quebec’s maple syrup industry is subject to a supply-management system, meaning it employs a quota system run by the QMSP which dictates market volume. The QMSP also controls the Global Strategic Maple Syrup Reserve, which can hold more than 45 million kilograms of maple syrup. 

The reserve was created in 2000 to keep syrup in stock and ensure a constant supply for national and international markets, regardless of the size of the harvest, Hélène Normandin, a spokeswoman for QMSP told CBC’s As It Happens. 

One site, the Laurierville Plant and Warehouse, in the Centre-du-Québec region, covers an area of 24,805 square metres – the equivalent of five football fields. That site alone can store 25 million kilograms of maple syrup, or 94,000 barrels.

When properly stored in barrels, maple syrup can last for many years, said Michael Farrell, the former director of Cornell University’s Uihlein Forest, a maple syrup research and extension field station in Lake Placid, N.Y. 

In years when the yield is good, and more syrup is produced than needed, the extra can be sold to the QMSP and stored  “so that when there’s bad years, you have enough to keep people stocked up with syrup on their pancakes,” Farrell said. 

Without this in reserve [this year], there would be much less syrup up on store shelves, and the price would be much higher.”

Why did they have to tap into the reserve this year?

In 2021, there was about 60 million kilograms of maple syrup produced, an average amount when compared to past years but down 18 million kilograms compared to 2020.

In this photo, a harvester taps a maple tree. Quebec’s maple syrup industry is subject to a supply management system, meaning it employs a quota system run by the QMSP which dictates market volume. (CBC)

“It was an average season, not bad, but not as big as the two last seasons — 2019 and 2020 were just amazing, wonderful years of production,” Normandin said.

However, worldwide demand has increased by more than 20 per cent — a spike industry experts believe was partly fuelled by more people cooking at home during the pandemic — and that has strained the supply

How did the weather affect the yield?

Not every year is a perfect year for every agricultural harvest. And this was one of those years which was not ideal in terms of maple syrup production, said Abby van den Berg, a research associate professor at the University of Vermont’s Proctor Maple Research Center in Underhill, Vt.

Many places didn’t have good weather for sap flow until later in the production season, she said.

In order for sap to flow, there has to be freezing temperatures, followed by above-freezing temperatures, she said.

“There just weren’t that many sap flow days,” Van den Berg said.

Was there really a ‘shortage’ of syrup.

‘Canada tapping reserve maple syrup supply amid shortage’ 

‘Facing shortages, Canada taps its strategic reserve of maple syrup’

It was headlines like those that made Van den Berg bristle, she said.

“We had a year where the harvest was not super. It actually wasn’t terrible. It wasn’t as good as it had been in past years, and the reserve was there to perform its function,” she said. “And there was no disruption in supply. There is no shortage.”

“All of the headlines said ‘maple syrup shortage,'” she said. “And literally, there is no shortage because of the reserve.”

Jugs of maple syrup line a shelf. In 2021, there was about 60 million kilograms of maple syrup produced, an average amount when compared to past years but down 40 million pounds compared to 2020. (Hallie Cotnam/CBC)

Philippe Charest-Beudry, the owner of Ste-Anne-de-la-Rochelle, Que.-based Brien Maple Sweets, which packages and sells bottles of maple syrup, said his company has been able to fill every contract so far this year.

I’ve not heard in the industry other players that we’re not able to meet contracts,” he said.

Has the reserve ever run into trouble with its stock?

Between 2011 and and 2012 around 3,000 tonnes were stolen from a storage facility in Quebec. But it was a few years earlier than that when the strategic reserve actually did run dry.

“People probably don’t remember, but in 2008, after two or three years in a row of bad production, just bad weather, [they] ran out of syrup in the reserve,” said Mike Farrell 

“There was nothing there and there wasn’t enough syrup to go around. Prices spiked. We lost a lot of markets for pure maple syrup,”he said. 

A tree is tapped for maple syrup harvest. Many places didn’t have good weather for sap flow until later in the production season, said Abby van den Berg, a research associate professor at the University of Vermont’s Proctor Maple Research Center in Underhill, Vt. (CBC)

Ray Bonenberg, former president of the International Maple Syrup Institute and a maple syrup producer near Pembroke, Ont., said 2008 was an “awful year in production.”

“It was abnormally cold until April 1st and then it got really warm, and I know my season was like eight days so it was disastrous,” he said. “The reserve was right down to the bottom, and has been building it up.”

What does this mean for next year?

Farrell said the 22.7 million kilograms of maple syrup represents a  “significant amount to take out the reserve this year.” But what does that mean for the near future of the reserve?

There are currently around 50 million maple syrup taps in Quebec. In July, the QMSP approved the issuance of seven million new ones to meet the demand.

“From our  perspective, we believe it should solve the issue on the short term basis,” said Charest-Beudry, “I don’t see  a season next year where there’s no more maple syrup in the grocery store.”

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RBC hiking dividend, buying back shares despite Q4 profit miss – BNN



Columnist image

Royal Bank of Canada announced a dividend hike and plans to repurchase tens of millions of its shares on Wednesday despite also reporting quarterly profit that trailed expectations. 

In a release, RBC said it will raise its quarterly dividend 11 per cent to $1.20 per share. The bank said it’s also seeking approval from the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions (OSFI) to buy back up to 45 million of its common shares.

It’s the second such move this week, after Bank of Nova Scotia similarly announced plans for a buyback and dividend hike on Tuesday. Both banks are doing so after OSFI recently lifted its pandemic-era prohibition on share repurchases and buybacks. 

RBC also said on Wednesday its 2021 fiscal year profit climbed 40 per cent year-over-year to $16.1 billion. In the fiscal fourth quarter, which ended Oct. 31, the bank’s net income rose 20 per cent to $3.89 billion. That bottom-line performance was helped in part by a release of $227 million from funds that were previously set aside for loans that could go bad. It’s the third consecutive quarter that RBC moved cash out of its provisions for credit losses and funneled that money into its profit stream. 

On an adjusted basis, the quarterly profit worked out to $2.71 per share. Analysts, on average, were expecting $2.81. 

“Our overall  performance  in  2021  reflected  strong  earnings,  premium  shareholder performance,  and  highlighted  our ability to successfully  navigate  a  complex  operating  environment  while  continuing  to  invest  in  talent  and  innovations  to  support  future growth,” said Dave McKay, RBC’s president and chief executive, in a release. 

RBC’s bread-and-butter personal and commercial banking unit was the primary profit driver in the latest quarter, as net income in that division rose 35 per cent year-over-year to $2.03 billion, in part thanks to the release of $208 million that was previously provisioned for potentially sour loans.  

Royal Bank’s domestic banking business also benefitted from double-digit growth in its mortgage book. Indeed, in a supplemental release Wednesday, RBC said it had an average Canadian mortgage balance of $329.5 billion in the fourth quarter; that represents year-over-year growth of almost 13 per cent compared to the balance of $293 billion in the fiscal fourth quarter of 2020. 

Fourth-quarter profit from the bank’s capital markets unit rose 10 per cent to $920 million, with RBC attributing some of that to a rise in mergers and acquisitions activity. 

Meanwhile, earnings from RBC’s wealth management business inched up two per cent year-over-year to $558 million.

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