Calgary man faces charges in $20M fraud investigation

Colleen Schmidt, CTV News

A 42-year-old Calgary man is facing charges in connection to a multi-million dollar fraud investigation that alleged bilked $20M from investors over an eight year period.

The Calgary RCMP Serious & Organized Crime Unit launched an investigation into commercial real estate ventures operated by Platinum Equities Ltd., which is controlled by Srinivasan “Sharif” Chandran of Calgary.

Police arrested and charged Chandran on Monday and allege that he:

  • Used Platinum Equities Ltd. to raise millionsof dollars from Canadian investors through a variety of investment funds and that one of the funds, the Qualia Real Estate Investment V Limited Partnership (Qualia V), issued an Offering Memorandum to raise capital for the purchase of a commercial building known as Dominion Place in Calgary Alberta.
  • After purchasing the Dominion Place building in 2006 using funds belonging to the Qualia V limited partnership, he fraudulently sold the Dominion Place building in 2011 in a non-arm’s length transaction to another company he controlled and operated without the knowledge or consent of the limited partners.   Qualia V investors were instantly deprived of their asset on this date.
  • Committed theft of the secured equity of the Qualia V Limited Partnership when he sold the Dominion Place Building to a company he controlled and operated.
  • Provided false information to investors, diverted funds to other business ventures outside of the investment agreement and stole about $20M in investor’s funds, between September 28, 2005 and October 21st, 2013

Chandran is charged with fraud over $5,000 and theft over $5,000.

Former Merrill Lynch Broker Tom Buck Barred Permanently From Industry


The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority permanently barred former Merrill Lynch financial adviser Tom Buck from the brokerage industry, accusing him of fraudulently causing clients to overpay for services and for engaging in unauthorized trading, according to documents published on Finra’s website on Tuesday.

Mr. Buck, who once oversaw $1.3 billion of client assets and spent nearly all his career at Merrill Lynch in Indianapolis until he was fired in April, neither admitted nor denied the allegations made by Finra, but he agreed to be barred from the industry, according to the order dated July 24.

A message left on Mr. Buck’s home telephone wasn’t immediately returned. His attorney,David Robbins, of Kaufmann Gildin & Robbins LLP, didn’t respond to telephone calls seeking comment.

A Merrill spokesman said the firm has “cooperated fully with Finra and will continue to do so.”

Mr. Buck, a broker for 33 years, had been employed by RBC Wealth Management, the wealth arm of the Royal Bank of Canada, since his departure from Merrill Lynch. An RBC spokeswoman on Tuesday said the firm was “greatly disappointed to learn” of Finra’s findings about Mr. Buck’s actions and said he no longer worked there.

Since at least 2009, Mr. Buck had steered clients into commission-based brokerage accounts, which charge customers for each transaction made, instead of accounts that carry a flat annual fee regardless of activity, Finra said. “In some instances, clients paid substantially more in commissions than they would have paid in fee-based accounts,” Finra said in the order.

Mr. Buck also “misled clients about the potential advantages of using fee-based accounts in order to keep the clients in higher-cost commission-based accounts,” Finra said. Roughly 80% of Mr. Buck’s accounts were commission-based, while about 70% of the accounts in Merrill’s Indiana branches were fee-based.

Mr. Buck also conducted trading in some client accounts without authorization beginning in or before 2011, Finra said.

Mr. Buck had been a well-known broker at Merrill Lynch due to his long tenure and high level of production. He managed more than a dozen employees. The team, known as the Buck Group, generated $6 million to $10 million in revenue annually, said Finra, of which at least 85% was attributable to Mr. Buck.

In March, Mr. Buck walked into what he thought to be a routine meeting with his managers, but instead he was escorted from the building and eventually fired, Mr. Buck previously told The Wall Street Journal in an interview.

Merrill Lynch dismissed Mr. Buck for reasons including “failing to discuss service level and pricing alternatives with a customer,” the brokerage said in a so-called U5 filing viewed by the Journal. A U5 is a confidential document that typically explains a broker’s departure or dismissal.

At the time, Mr. Buck described the firing as a “kick in the gut” and said he was unaware of the issues raised by Merrill.

Since his dismissal, nearly a dozen complaints have been filed against Mr. Buck, alleging unauthorized or excessive trading had taken place in client accounts, according to his record on BrokerCheck, Finra’s database on brokers and financial advisers. Some complaints have been dismissed, while others are pending, but five have been settled for damages totaling about $784,000.

Typically, the brokerage firm pays the settlements to clients.

RBC, which also hired two of Mr. Buck’s daughters, including Indianapolis Colts cheerleader and former Merrill Lynch adviser Ann Buck, said Mr. Buck’s “actions are entirely inconsistent with the representations he made to us during the hiring process and stem from conduct that occurred while Mr. Buck was employed with another firm.”

Both of Mr. Buck’s daughters continue to be employed by RBC, the spokeswoman said, adding that Ann Buck will now lead her father’s practice.

Man convicted in Texas for $10M timeshare fraud in US, Canada

Source: The Associated Press

DALLAS – A Florida man could be sentenced to more than 500 years in prison for leading a $10-million timeshare scam in the U.S. and Canada.

Fabian Fleifel of Winter Springs, Fla., was convicted in Texas of conspiracy to commit mail fraud, wire fraud and bank fraud.

A federal jury in Dallas on Monday also convicted Fleifel of 19 counts of mail fraud telemarketing and six counts of wire fraud telemarketing.

Investigators say the 45-year-old Fleifel hired telemarketers to call timeshare owners to solicit fees in a bogus promise of buyers.

Prosecutors say more than 5,000 people, including many over age 55, were victims.

Fleifel, who was convicted on all 26 counts in the 2012 indictment, remains in custody pending sentencing.

Eleven other people earlier pleaded guilty and await sentencing.


Take common sense precautions to protect your credit cards from fraud


OTTAWA – As Canadians head out for their holidays this summer, they’re going to be reaching for their credit card to pay their way and experts want them to take some simple steps to protect against fraud.

While entirely eliminating the risk that your card number will be stolen isn’t possible, reducing the chances you will be hit requires mostly common sense.

Don’t lend your card, protect your personal identification number, don’t share your PIN number and check your transactions regularly.

“You should protect your card like you would cash,” says Maura Drew-Lytle, spokeswoman for the Canadian Bankers Association.

Drew-Lytle says banks are constantly monitoring credit card transactions looking for fraud, so you may want to let your bank know if you’re travelling so they don’t suspect your purchase of a souvenir while on holiday in Europe is someone that has stolen your card.

“If you’re someone that doesn’t travel a lot and all of a sudden they see transactions from Spain on your credit card, they may block it thinking it is fraudulent,” she said.

The big credit card companies have zero liability policies that can protect you from unauthorized purchases, but if your card is compromised and needs to be replaced it can be a major inconvenience, especially if you are travelling.

The introduction of chip cards in Canada has helped fight credit card counterfeiting. According to the Canadian Bankers Association, they reduced card counterfeiting by 23 per cent between 2012 and 2013.

However, the U.S., a major destination for vacationing Canadians, has been slow to adopt the technology with many stores and restaurants still swiping your card and requiring you to sign the bill.

Drew-Lytle says you should take the same precautions while travelling in the U.S. you did before chip cards were introduced in Canada.

“If anything looks unusual about the terminal that they are using, you might want to pay cash or go somewhere else,” she said.

When shopping online, Mike Haley, a regional vice-president for the Royal Bank, says beware of links sent to you with offers that seem like they might be too good to be true because they could be phishing attempts to steal your card information.

“If it is coming to you, you have to be a bit skeptical,” he said, adding that you should use a secure connection with making a purchase online and never send your card number by email, which is not secure.

Haley also recommends receiving electronic statements instead of paper bills because that eliminates another way your card number could be stolen.

If you spot purchases that aren’t yours on your statement or think you might have given out your number when you shouldn’t have, you should contact your card issuer right away.

Banks will contact you in some circumstances if they think a charge doesn’t look right.

If you’re concerned that a call from someone saying they are from your bank may be a fraudster, Haley says there’s nothing wrong with hanging up and calling back.

But, he adds, don’t call a number given to you by the person on the phone. Instead, call the number on the back of your card or look it up somewhere you can trust.

“Just connect with your card company,” Haley says. “They’ll take over the situation immediately, they’ll make sure they can issue you a new card and protect you from any additional risks out there.”

Your card company or bank will never call or email you to ask for personal information like your card number, expiry date or PIN.


Taxi debit fraud: How it worked

By CBC News

After months of investigation, Montreal police have arrested two men in connection with an extensive scam to skim debit cards.

Police say the suspects were stealing customers’ PINs and debit cards and swapping them out with near identical cards, before draining their bank accounts.

The suspects generally followed the same pattern, according to police:

  • The driver would pick up a passenger from the street.
  • At some point, the driver would ask that the passenger pay by debit. When it came time to pay, the driver would insert the card into a special terminal that skims PINs.
  • While passengers weren’t looking, he would pocket the real card and hand back a different, nearly identical debit card.

The fraudsters worked quickly, often withdrawing huge sums of money within a few hours of the card theft, before the customer noticed.

Victim Hannah Lazare said it was only the next day, when she went to her TD branch to cash a cheque, that she realized her debit card had been stolen.

“I noticed that there was some scratches on the back of the card. And I realized that the signature on the back was not mine,” she said.

Police say the fraudsters worked quickly, often withdrawing huge sums of money within a few hours of the card theft. (CBC)

Lazare, a law, ethics and history student at the University of Toronto  had just deposited several thousand dollars in scholarship money in her account a few days before. She recoiled when the teller told her there was just $6 left in her account.

From her bank statement, Lazare could see that the fraudsters had withdrawn $1,000 from a bank machine and then spent the rest at a Couche Tard dépanneur.

Police said the fraudsters worked quickly, often withdrawing huge sums of money within a few hours of the card theft. (CBC)

Police say the suspects also tried to press passengers for personal information, to maximize their return.

“What interested them most was their date of birth,” said Montreal Police Sgt. Laurent Gingras.

‘The guy was very good at chatting us up… basically just distracting us and taking our mind off of anything we’d consider to be off about the whole situation.’– Victim Matt MacKinnon

“Because with the date of birth, at certain banks, they can withdraw more money than is usually allowed.”

Matt MacKinnon, a local freelance photographer, lost hundreds of dollars in the same scheme on Saturday.

“The guy was very good at chatting us up, asking where we were from and stuff — basically just distracting us and taking our mind off of anything we’d consider to be off about the whole situation,” said MacKinnon.

Neither MacKinnon nor Lazare say they gave personal information to the driver.

Lazare said she was reimbursed by TD bank once the bank determined she had been the victim of fraud.
MacKinnon, also a TD customer, said the bank is still conducting its investigation.

Renting out taxis

Gingras said the suspects were renting out taxis under the table from different drivers with different companies.

It’s not clear whether the drivers who lent their cars knew anything about the fraud.

“By varying the kind of vehicle that was used, they would not [draw] attention to themselves,” said Gingras. “Different types of vehicles — more difficult for the police to pinpoint.”

One of the suspects appears to have had a taxi licence. The other does not even have a driver’s licence.

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