3 min

Gay businessmen victims of con

Telephone scam for a phony cause

TARGETED. George Hartsgrove is alive and well, despite phone calls suggesting otherwise. Credit: Capital Xtra files

Gay communities across Canada are being targeted by a telephone scam seeking cash to help high-profile gay businesmen who have supposedly been viciously attacked.

George Hartsgrove, owner of the Inn on Somerset, learned that he was the subject of this scam when he got a call from Wayne Cave and Ed St Jean, owners of CP and Icon, asking if he was OK. Cave and St Jean had received a call, claiming Hartsgrove had been mugged and that he was in an American hospital with a broken jaw. Then they were asked if they could send money by Western Union to help with hospital expenses and get Hartsgrove back to Canada.

Fortunately since Hartsgrove runs a B&B, they were quite sure that he was not someplace in the US. And because of his involvement with the community, several people had seen Hartsgrove around town only a day before.

“They both called just to make sure that I was well and still in town,” says Hartsgrove.

“This is the second time this has happened in about four months. The first time they tried contacting other bed and breakfasts asking for money because I was in the hospital, because I was beaten.”

Hartsgrove doesn’t understand why he has been specifically used in this scam, but does admit it’s not hard to find information about him and his business and that probably makes him an easy target.

Hartsgrove says to the best of his knowledge the calls originate from California, which makes finding out who is doing this almost impossible.

“I wrote the number down when they called here and when I tried calling back, it turned out to be a pay phone.”

Hartsgrove didn’t bother calling the police because he feels there isn’t much they can do to track this down, and that it’s pretty much impossible to trace the number.

The scam, however, isn’t confined just to Ottawa.

Stephen Lock, a member of the Egale Canada Board of Directors in Calgary, says a similar scam has surfaced there. “I find it disturbing on a variety of levels. It’s not just the actual scam, but how much detailed information they have on people,” says Lock.

“Scam artists like this tend to target well-known people within the community, hoping a well-known figure will bring more money.”

Lock says besides the fact that the caller has detailed information about the person, he doesn’t understand why people haven’t talked more about it, at least to warn people about what’s been happening.

Scams like this are difficult to investigate since the calls can originate from anywhere, making it difficult for police to find out who is responsible. Lock says he has no idea why the gay community is being targeted. “This happened to me about 10 years ago when friends of mine got a call saying I was looking for cash because I was stuck in Mississippi, which of course I wasn’t.”

Neither Hartsgrove nor Lock have heard whether anyone in Ottawa or Calgary has actually been conned out of money.

But Gilles Marchildon, the executive director of Egale Canada, says at least one person in Winnipeg did actually send money to the con artist.

Marchildon says two high-profile members of the gay community in Winnipeg were also used in scam attempts earlier this year. The scam also originated from California, but this time, one person was bilked out of $1,000.

“A man posing as [a Winnipeg businessman] called fellow Winnipeg gay businessmen asking that money be wired to Los Angles to cover medical expenses from a horrible car crash as well as air fare back to Manitoba,” says Marchildon. One person who believed the story to be true did wire the mystery man in Los Angeles a thousand dollars through Western Union.

In Vancouver, an advisory was issued in late April letting the community know that gay-owned and friendly businesses in the area had received phone calls from a man in Los Angeles asking for money on behalf of Paul Matsi of Max’s Leather, claiming that he was in trouble.

A spokesman for the Ottawa Police Department’s Fraud Section says if you get a call soliciting a cash donation please practice common sense.

Get the person’s name and number; tell them you want to check out their organization and what it’s all about and that you will call them back. If they are legitimate, they will understand.