Imagine you have just moved to a new country, you’ve started your own event planning company and what appears to be the big break you’ve been waiting for, a party at the film festival, lands on your plate.
Marianne Henderson thought she hit the jackpot but instead she is now out thousands of dollars, her financial institution is after her and she is facing bankruptcy.
Henderson opened her event planning company 11 months ago, not long after she and her husband moved here from South Africa. She says she had only done small events until July when a request came in from Stoneway Films in Vancouver to do a film screening with guest speakers here in Toronto.
Henderson said she did her homework.
“I talked to the guy, I emailed, they had a website, an address, all the things people would have,” Henderson said.
Stoneway told her Dollarama was the sponsor and even sent her a cheque for $65,000 allegedly from Dollarama to pay for a venue. Stoneway wanted to bring in an American talent agency called Walsh and Marong to be the guest speakers.
Henderson said she was emailing Lisa Walsh throughout the deal to confirm details.
“I got an invoice, I got a contract,” she said.
She says she researched the speakers and they seemed legitimate so Henderson wired the agency the money, nearly $52,000.
That’s when things went south. As soon as the agency received the money, there was no more communication.
Two days after wiring the money she found her bank account was in overdraft to the tune of $51,000. She tried contacting her bank to tell them she thought something was wrong but she says “they told me the fraud department wasn’t open on weekends.”
TD-Canada Trust finally got back to her on the Tuesday, saying the money was gone.
Then the bank dropped a second bombshell. The cheque she said the bank told her would take five days to clear turned out to be forged and now, she owed the bank the missing money.
Henderson was stunned.
“Once the money was in my account and they said it was fine and I can use it, I thought they did their jobs and their checks and it was good to go,” she said.
TD and many other banks for that matter have a clause in their agreements. In TD’s case, it is the last paragraph regarding holding cheques: “After the expiry the hold period, you may access the funds. However, our release of the funds to you does not mean that the cheque or other instrument cannot be returned for another reason. If it is returned after the hold period, we may charge the amount of the cheque or other instrument to your account.”
CityNews spoke with lawyer Jordan Donich who said it is a difficult thing to get around and Henderson may have a chance because she notified the bank.
“The fact that the banks were notified and put on notice that this could be a fraudulent cheque… is certainly something that could help her in a future legal action,” Donich said.
Donich added there are some simple tips to protect yourself. include letting the cheque sit longer than the legally required time and for small sums use e-transfers. But he said the best protection is yourself.
‘‘Ultimately it’s really up to the client to exercise their due diligence,” he said. “At the end of the day, no one is going to protect your own money better than yourself.”
TD responded to CityNews for comment about the situation and said in an email “this is a really complex situation and we need time to talk to a few different departments. We are going to work through this in the coming days and be in touch with our customer directly.”
Henderson and her husband are expecting their first child any day now and she fears this could destroy the company she launched less than a year ago.
“I’ve managed to not put any strain on my family and they just tossed me under the bus, so I don’t know what to do,” Henderson said.