Opinion » Editorial

Staying alert



We are all vulnerable in some way.

It can be on a personal level—for example, being scammed by a con artist; or it can be on a community level, such as the threat we face from local environmental issues; or it can be national or even global in nature.

How we respond to these threats ourselves, and as neighbours and citizens, is one of the ways we can judge what kind of community we live in.

Nothing is worse than feeling the sting of falling for a scam. Years ago, during my first months working full-time after finishing university, all the money I had was stolen out of my bank account. I had, against the advice of my bank, asked that new cheques be sent to me by mail. A canny thief broke into my apartment's community mailbox and got away with my cheques, and conveniently, my bank statement, which also contained my cashed cheques for the previous month.

So, to recap, the thieves had my new blank cheques, my bank statement and cashed cheques with my signature. If I had followed the advice of my bank, I would not have had to live off of borrowed funds for a month while all of that got sorted out.

I didn't think it could happen to me. I was way too savvy to get taken—I learned it could happen to anyone.

This week, Pique covers the story of a local woman who lost close to $10,000 to scammers posing as Canada Revenue Agency agents. They threatened her and scared her into handing over money she thought she owed in penalties.

It's easy to scoff at the tale and tell yourself you'd never fall for that, but the sheer number of people this happens to belies the truth of that.

Almost $5 million was lost to this type of scam in 2017, which is likely a very low estimate, as it's widely understood that only five per cent of victims actually report the crime.

A new twist on this scam sees thieves asking for payment in Bitcoin, which keeps users' identities private. But remember no government agency in Canada accepts cryptocurrency as payment. Nor will a government agency threaten or coerce you for payment. In 2017, Canadians were swindled of $1.7 million in cryptocurrencies—almost double the total from 2016.

(For information on scams or to report deceptive telemarketing, contact the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre online at www.antifraudcentre-centreantifraude.ca or toll-free at 1-888-495-8501. If you have lost money in a fraud, contact the Whistler RCMP at 604-932-3044.)

In this case, the scam took on a totally credible feel, as the victim had been talking with the CRA office just hours before, asking questions about her returns.

Let's remember any of us can be vulnerable.

May 5 was also Wildfire Community Preparedness Day in Whistler—this, as the first local wildfire (human-caused) had firefighters battling in the forest northeast of Pemberton. At print deadline, the fire was finally under control, but this is an early reminder of how vulnerable Whistler is to this potentially devastating disaster.

The Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) has an active FireSmart program and residents can access community chipper days from now until June 10 (contact the FireSmart Coordinator at srogers@whistler.ca to schedule a date) as part of this initiative. Getting rid of fire fuel around your house is an easy way to try and mitigate wildfire risk—making us all less vulnerable.

The RMOW has also been active for weeks doing fuel-thinning work at several locations within interface zones.

On May 14, the RMOW Emergency Program and Whistler Fire Rescue Service will lead a joint wildfire exercise with community partners, including BC Wildfire, the RCMP, Whistler Transit and Whistler Blackcomb.

The Whistler Emergency Program also offers free Emergency Preparedness workshops. The workshop helps residents prepare for, respond to, and recover from wildfires, floods, earthquakes and other disasters that we are all vulnerable to.

Things happen—things we don't expect, which can change our lives in an instant. Being aware, being educated and being ready can help, but if things go wrong the most important thing we can do is help each other.