Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Scam Ma'am abuses trust of Winnipeggers

Complaints require police probe

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WHO can you trust?

I'm only asking because of what's been happening on the streets of Winnipeg lately.

There's a middle-aged woman out there who's scamming big-hearted people with her tale of family woe.

It's been going on since at least the spring.

Probably longer.

And, judging by the flood of e-mails and phone calls that followed the first alert from a Free Press reader on Thursday, the Scam Ma'am has been getting away with it.

All over the city.

Usually at ATMs, or in front of hospitals.

Always using the same Bible-Belt name and address.

Sometimes even running up, rapping on car windows, and then climbing right in, which she reportedly did to a vehicle crammed with seven Hutterites that was stopped for a red light near the Health Sciences Centre.

The hook on her line -- which varies only slightly -- is baited with her desperation, anxiety and, when she needs them, tears.

One of her victims was a 26-year-old woman.

This is her account of what happened:

"In my case, the woman approached me in the bank machine area at the TD Canada Trust on Osborne Street, introduced herself as Leanne Friesen and told me that she was from Morden.

"She said that her father had been golfing at Falcon Lake and had collapsed on the course, so he had been transferred to the Concordia Hospital in Winnipeg. She said that she had forgotten her wallet in Morden because she had left in such a rush, and she had run out of gas on her way into the city.

"I gave her $40 and she took my personal information, promising to reimburse me the next day.

"When I had not received any money after five days, I went back to the bank and spoke with the manager to warn her that this woman was taking advantage of her customers.

"She advised me to file a police report because the bank has videotape of the bank machine area, but they could not view it without a police order to do so. So, I went and filed a police report, but the officer informed me that since I willingly gave the woman the money and there had been no force involved, it would be a waste of police time to view the tapes because they couldn't do anything about the scam (i.e., charges could not be pressed)."

On Friday, I tried to get a comment from police on that.

But they didn't get back to me.

My sense, after taking a look at the Criminal Code section on fraud, is the police officer who offered that opinion is wrong.

This young woman, and many other Winnipeggers, have been defrauded of their $40 loans. And the police, having had at least one complaint, need to launch an investigation.

"This experience taught me a valuable lesson," the young woman concluded. "Instead of automatically thinking, 'I'll never give money to a stranger in trouble again,' I would simply be smarter about it."

In retrospect, she recalled one of the red flags.

The way the woman pushed for the $40, when she only wanted to loan her $20.

The young woman felt something wasn't right.

"I actually said to her: 'If this is a scam, I am such an idiot.' "

But she went with her heart.

Instead of her gut.

Not so my professional skeptical, street-hardened Free Press colleague, Bart Kives.

She even went after him last April, while he was driving his car down a back lane in the Osborne Village area.

"She said she was from Morden and asked for gas money to visit a relative at Concordia Hospital.

"I offered her a ride and she declined."

Bart still remembers her exact words and tone.

"Well, if you're not at peace with it..."

Bart was convinced she was a scam artist.

"To be frank," he recalled, "she wasn't very convincing. But I don't trust anyone."

Anyway, to answer my own question...

Who can you trust?

Yourself.

And your gut instincts.

gordon.sinclair@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 16, 2007 $sourceSection$sourcePage

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