January 19, 2024

A Canadian man who says he’s been falsely charged with orchestrating a complex e-commerce scam is seeking to clear his name. His case appears to involve “triangulation fraud,” which occurs when a consumer purchases something online — from a seller on Amazon or eBay, for example — but the seller doesn’t actually own the item for sale. Instead, the seller purchases the item from an online retailer using stolen payment card data. In this scam, the unwitting buyer pays the scammer and receives what they ordered, and very often the only party left to dispute the transaction is the owner of the stolen payment card.

Triangulation fraud. Image: eBay Enterprise.

Timothy Barker, 56, was until recently a Band Manager at Duncan’s First Nation, a First Nation in northwestern Alberta, Canada. A Band Manager is responsible for overseeing the delivery of all Band programs, including community health services, education, housing, social assistance, and administration.

Barker told KrebsOnSecurity that during the week of March 31, 2023 he and the director of the Band’s daycare program discussed the need to purchase items for the community before the program’s budget expired for the year.

“There was a rush to purchase items on the Fiscal Year 2023 timeline as the year ended on March 31,” Barker recalled.

Barker said he bought seven “Step2 All Around Playtime Patio with Canopy” sets from a seller on Amazon.ca, using his payment card on file to pay nearly $2,000 for the items.

On the morning of April 7, Barker’s Facebook account received several nasty messages from an Ontario woman he’d never met. She demanded to know why he’d hacked her Walmart account and used it to buy things that were being shipped to his residence. Barker shared a follow-up message from the woman, who later apologized for losing her temper.

One of several messages from the Ontario woman whose Walmart account was used to purchase the goods that Barker ordered from Amazon.

“If this is not the person who did this to me, I’m sorry, I’m pissed,” the lady from Ontario said. “This order is being delivered April 14th to the address above. If not you, then someone who has the same name. Now I feel foolish.”

On April 12, 2023, before the Amazon purchases had even arrived at his home, Barker received a call from an investigator with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), who said Barker urgently needed to come down to the local RCMP office for an interview related to “an investigation.” Barker said the officer wouldn’t elaborate at the time on the nature of the investigation, and that he told the officer he was in Halifax for several days but could meet after his return home.

According to Barker, the investigator visited his home anyway the following day and began questioning his wife, asking about his whereabouts, his work, and when he might return home.

On April 14, six boxes arrived to partially fulfill his Amazon order; another box was delayed, and the Amazon.ca seller he’d purchased from said the remaining box was expected to ship the following week. Barker said he was confused because all six boxes came from Walmart instead of Amazon, and the shipping labels had his name and address on them but carried a contact phone number in Mexico.

Three days later, the investigator called again, demanding he submit to an interview.

“He then asked where my wife was and what her name is,” Barker said. “He wanted to know her itinerary for the day. I am now alarmed and frightened — this doesn’t feel right.”

Barker said he inquired with a local attorney about a consultation, but that the RCMP investigator showed up at his house before he could speak to the lawyer. The investigator began taking pictures of the boxes from his Amazon order.

“The [investigator] derisively asked why would anyone order so many play sets?” Barker said. “I started to give the very logical answer that we are helping families improve their children’s home life and learning for toddlers when he cut me off and gave the little speech about giving a statement after my arrest. He finally told me that he believes that I used someone’s credit card in Ontario to purchase the Walmart products.”

Eager to clear his name, Barker said he shared with the police copies of his credit card bills and purchase history at Amazon. But on April 21, the investigator called again to say he was coming to arrest Barker for theft.

“He said that if I was home at five o’clock then he would serve the papers at the house and it would go easy and I wouldn’t have to go to the station,” Barker recalled. “If I wasn’t home, then he would send a search team to locate me and drag me to the station. He said he would kick the door down if I didn’t answer my phone. He said he had every right to break our door down.”

Barker said he briefly conferred with an attorney about how to handle the arrest. Later that evening, the RCMP arrived with five squad cars and six officers.

“I asked if handcuffs were necessary – there is no danger of violence,” Barker said. “I was going to cooperate. His response was to turn me around and cuff me. He walked me outside and stood me beside the car for a full 4 or 5 minutes in full view of all the neighbors.”

Barker believes he and the Ontario woman are both victims of triangulation fraud, and that someone likely hacked the Ontario woman’s Walmart account and added his name and address as a recipient.

But he says he has since lost his job as a result of the arrest, and now he can’t find new employment because he has a criminal record. Barker’s former employer — Duncan’s First Nation — did not respond to requests for comment.

“In Canada, a criminal record is not a record of conviction, it’s a record of charges and that’s why I can’t work now,” Barker said. “Potential employers never find out what the nature of it is, they just find out that I have a criminal arrest record.”

Barker said that right after his arrest, the RCMP called the Ontario woman and told her they’d solved the crime and arrested the perpetrator.

“They even told her my employer had put me on administrative leave,” he said. “Surely, they’re not allowed to do that.”

Contacted by KrebsOnSecurity, the woman whose Walmart account was used to fraudulently purchase the child play sets said she’s not convinced this was a case of triangulation fraud. She declined to elaborate on why she believed this, other than to say the police told her Barker was a bad guy.

“I don’t think triangulation fraud was used in this case,” she said. “My actual Walmart.ca account was hacked and an order was placed on my account, using my credit card. The only thing Mr. Barker did was to order the item to be delivered to his address in Alberta.”

Barker shared with this author all of the documentation he gave to the RCMP, including screenshots of his Amazon.ca account showing that the items in dispute were sold by a seller named “Adavio,” and that the merchant behind this name was based in Turkey.

That Adavio account belongs to a young computer engineering student and “SEO expert” based in Adana, Turkey who did not respond to requests for comment.

Amazon.ca said it conducted an investigation and found that Mr. Barker never filed a complaint about the seller or transaction in question. The company noted that Adavio currently has a feedback rating of 4.5 stars out of 5.

“Amazon works hard to provide customers with a great experience and it’s our commitment to go above and beyond to make things right for customers,” Amazon.ca said in a written statement. “If a customer has an issue with an order, they may flag to Amazon through our Customer Service page.”

Barker said when he went to file a complaint with Amazon last year he could no longer find the Adavio account on the website, and that the site didn’t have a category for the type of complaint he wanted to file.

When he first approached KrebsOnSecurity about his plight last summer, Barker said he didn’t want any media attention to derail the chances of having his day in court, and confronting the RCMP investigator with evidence proving that he was being wrongfully prosecuted and maligned.

But a week before his court date arrived at the end of November 2023, prosecutors announced the charges against him would be stayed, meaning they had no immediate plans to prosecute the case further but that the investigation could still be reopened at some point in the future.

The RCMP declined to comment for this story, other than to confirm they had issued a stay of proceedings in the case.

Barker says the stay has left him in legal limbo — denying him the ability to clear his name, while giving the RCMP a free pass for a botched investigation. He says he has considered suing the investigating officer for defamation, but has been told by his attorney that the bar for success in such cases against the government is extremely high.

“I’m a 56-year-old law-abiding citizen, and I haven’t broken any laws,” Barker said, wondering aloud who would be stupid enough to use someone else’s credit card and have the stolen items shipped directly to their home.

“Their putting a stay on the proceedings without giving any evidence or explanation allows them to cover up bad police work,” he said. “It’s all so stupid.”

Triangulation fraud is hardly a new thing. KrebsOnSecurity first wrote about it from an e-commerce vendor’s perspective in 2015, but the scam predates that story by many years and is now a well-understood problem. The Canadian authorities should either let Mr. Barker have his day in court, or drop the charges altogether.

81 thoughts on “Canadian Man Stuck in Triangle of E-Commerce Fraud

  1. Mad Angus

    Why does anyone buy anything from Amazon that is not at least “shipped from Amazon”?? Otherwise, you are just asking for trouble.

    1. Art F

      There are sellers who are drop shipping selles for Amazon. These arbitrage sellers are legitimate but creates triangular scams to flourish…there should be protections in place by Amazon to limit these types of fraud.

  2. Catwhisperer

    Were I’m having a problem is at the start point of the transaction.
    – A transaction initiates from Baker to X. That is recorded, and and Baker’s account is debited.
    – A transaction initiates from Y to Walmart. That is recorded, and the victim’s account is debited.
    X and Y may not be the same individual. Both records have the origin of the transaction recorded. Via IP address, POS terminal serial number, geolocation, whatever. So what is the correspondence there? I’ve had to dispute an ATM withdrawal by a scammer some years back, and by reporting it using the bank app on the phone, they could tell that I was located about 5 miles away from the transaction location in the 30 seconds it took to report it from receiving the alert.

    If it was in the US, lawyers would be stumbling over themselves to file a lawsuit against the police. The legal system in Canada, though Western, is a tad different than we are accustomed to.

  3. muffin

    This is a note for Bryan, not related to this report: I have a neighbor who says she has lost all her IRA accounts and other brokerage investments via an “FBI scam.” She says the scam is all along the east coast of the U.S. It began with a call to her cell phone from her local police department (impersonating a real person at the police station). It’s very complicated and is still going on. Now she is getting calls from scammers who want to help her get her money back. This person is educated yet liquidated all her investments accounts and send the cash to the scammers. She was told not to talk to anyone and she did not, not even her husband. Have you heard of this Bryan? Could you write about it and how we can protect ourselves? My thoughts are: never answer my home phone (the caller can leave a message), all calls to my cell phone from numbers not in my contacts are sent to voice mail, never open at attachment in an email.

    1. mealy

      You’re under no obligation to respond to any email, voicemail, call, text, etc.
      You can always call up the agency/company at their listed number instead.
      The problem is nanna can’t be taught to do this, and “needs” a phone.

        1. mealy

          She believed the police without having an outside opinion. What’s the dif.

  4. Reginald Taylor

    In Canada, you are guilty until proven innocent. If you think qualified immunity is bad in the US, you haven’t had the pleasure of dealing with an incompetent or willfully malicious LEO or agency in Canada.

  5. Al Mills

    Mr. Barker and I were childhood friends and are still in touch. He told me of this situation just in the Fall of 2023. Mr. Barker is a solid guy and if he had anything to do with something fraudulent I’d be in total shock. What’s more, what kind of idiot would risk everything for some playground equipment for which he has no personal use? And selling it would only generate at most $2K. No one in Tim’s position in life would be so stupid, and no one with his character would be stealing to begin with.

  6. Paul

    Tokenscope is an arm from shard.ru with has no db but try to populate they db hiring people from poor countries to ask demo and. Ask drey from chainalisys as proof. I refused their illegal things and was not paid 250 USD and had to assume their mistakes with promess to be paid, never happened..
    Despite many others illegal things.

    Beware with shard aka tokenscope with provide to criminals scores of their tx.

  7. WhoComplies

    Answer me this…
    Is it common practice in Canada to make work related purchases on a personal credit card?
    I’m guessing the employer is what we refer to as a non-profit organization servicing the community.
    The organizations financial accounts should be highly scrutinized at end of year closeouts, so why wouldn’t you use the organizations payment cards to make the purchases for the community, instead of the organization having to reimburse Mr. Baker afterwards?
    If for some reason the organization doesn’t have a payment card, then it should have been placed on the CEO or Executive member staff to make the purchase on their personal cards.
    With Mr. Baker being terminated from the organization for a “supposedly” work related supervisor approved purchase, I don’t think we’re getting the full story.
    Just my opinion.

    1. ACanadian

      Depends on the business and your position in it. Not all people are credit card holders in companies name. If that was his case, he’d need to get someone who was the CC holder to make the purchase. Or with approval just do it himself and ask for reimbursement from the org.
      Lots of smaller businesses and things will do that (sometimes even owners). So they can get AirMiles or some kind of points on their personal cards, while making work purchases. Additionally it takes risk away from the business for someone abusing a company CC, and instead puts it on the purchaser to have prior approval before buying something for work.
      Definitely seen Canadian, European, and American companies all do this.

    2. BrianKrebs Post author

      There is no way to tell “the full story” in a story like this. You always have to leave details out, just to keep the story flowing.

      Mr. Barker told me that he and his former co-worker originally both tried to order the play sets directly from Walmart using the Band’s own credit cards, but the transactions were declined. They don’t know why. That’s when Mr. Barker said he decided to use his own Amazon account and card. It’s somewhat ironic then that the order from Amazon was ultimately fulfilled via Walmart.

  8. Alexander avis

    I don’t understand this part: “Barker said he bought seven “Step2 All Around Playtime Patio with Canopy” sets from a seller on Amazon.ca, using his payment card on file to pay nearly $2,000 for the items. […] Ontario woman […] demanded to know why he’d hacked her Walmart account and used it to buy things that were being shipped to his residence.”. If he used his credit card to make the payment, can’t this be proven? The point of hacking a Walmart account (happened to me a few years ago) is to use the victim’s Walmart payment on file to make fraudulent purchases, but he did not use her payment card, right? He should have the Amazon order info, the proof that he used his own payment card, what else is needed to prove he’s not guilty? If the Amazon seller took his money and used a hacked account to get goods from Walmart (for free) and send to him, that’s not his problem. Every time you buy something from an Amazon seller, you cannot guarantee that the seller is a legit vendor and not a criminal. I just don’t understand what they are accusing him of.

    1. indawgwetrust

      It *shouldn’t* be his problem, but they’ve made it his problem. Re-read the story. The RCMP officer failed to fully investigate the situation, and when presented with the proof you describe (order info, payment card charges, etc…) opted to simply ignore it. The prosecutor initially brought the charges based on the information presented by the RCMP officer, but once they fully examined the facts of the case they recognized that there was a credible explanation for the situation that the RCMP had ignored.

      The proof exists, and the prosecutor is fully aware of it, but dismissing the charges would be like officially recognizing the errors the investigator made, and so they continue to hold the charges open to protect their own.

    2. indawgwetrust

      it *shouldn’t* be his problem, but they are making it his problem. Go re-read the article. the RCMP officer that investigated this was presented with the proof you described, and he decided to ignore it. When the prosecutor started preparing the case for trial, they realized what had happened, but instead of dismissing the charges they’ve decided to pause them indefinitely in a pending state so as not to tarnish the reputation of the RCMP or the officer that did the investigation. Barker is left with an unresolved criminal charge on his record and all the collateral damage that comes with it, just so a bad cop doesn’t experience any consequences of his own decisions.

  9. wintermute

    It feels like something is “off” with this story but both the defrauded woman and the RCMP seem to think he is responsible. Honestly, the story can be seen from both sides and if he is innocent, that is terrible to be treated that way. What I don’t understand is if he has proof why would the RCMP react in that way?

  10. Tyler

    The most important clue in this story is the police report. It shows no steps were taken to trace the Wal-Mart order back to its source. It was assumed the delivery address led to the perp.

    The receipt from Amazon should have made the RCMP hit the brakes. That’s prima facie proof of a triangulation scam and nothing else – and certainly not an arrest – should have been done until they could rule that out.

  11. Reader

    I like your stories!

    Mr. Barker should reach out to the legislative representative (senator, congressman/congresswoman), or higher level government officials, demanding them to further inquire, investigate and resolve this issue. No matter whoever got it wrong. It was a government irresponsibility.

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