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Money on clothesline, fraud and scams. Money laundering. (Photos.com)

Money on clothesline, fraud and scams. Money laundering.

(Photos.com)

Business Briefing

Poor Alfred. He died 'interstate’ and his banker’s offering me millions Add to ...

These are stories Report on Business is following Thursday, April 3, 2014.

Follow Michael Babad and The Globe's Business Briefing on Twitter.

Love and money
If I’m reading my e-mails properly, and doing my math correctly, I stand to earn millions of dollars this week alone.

For the first time ever, I opened one of those scam e-mails to see what it said. Actually, not just one, but two, both arriving in my inbox in the same week.

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When you read these things, you can’t help but wonder how people fall for this stuff. But they do, which is why such scams are a growing threat to the gullible.

In my case, I think the deputy manager of a Chinese bank offered me millions, based on the fact that he represented one now-deceased Alfred Abbott, on whose behalf the bank invested $41.75-million and earned $6-million more.

Alfred, it turns out, asked the bank to liquidate his holdings in mid-2012 because he needed the cash for something else. However, the bank has only just learned that poor Alfred died in an accident.

“Which means he died Interstate,” the bank told me, which I can only take to mean that he croaked somewhere on the I-95.

But who cares? There’s no one left to mourn him – no next of kin – so his ex-banker is offering me 30 per cent of the total.

The day after I got this e-mail, I got another, this one telling me that one Gloria Mackenzie is going to give me $2-million.

It’s been a great week for me, clearly.

Not so fast, says the FBI, which has a web page dedicated to common scams, and which illustrates just how damaging these things can be.

It lists the most common fraud scams, investment-related scams, Internet scams and scams aimed at the elderly, everything from the “Nigerian Letter or ‘419’ fraud’ to “fraudulent ‘anti-aging’ products,” “funeral and cemetery fraud,” and “reverse mortgage scams.”

Other biggies include online dating scams. One such ill-timed message offers the opportunity to “meet Ukrainian girls free,” while another boasts of “cute girls across Russia.”

“No one wants to think they could be taken advantage of by an Internet dating scam, and yet hundreds of thousands of people are every single year,” according to the “dating” section of About.com.

“In fact, the U.S. embassy to Russia receives reports every single day from people concerned they’ve been scammed by a Russian single looking for love.”

So when it comes to love and money, look out.

HBC slips
Shares of Hudson’s Bay Co. slipped today after the retailer, which acquired U.S. luxury chain Saks Inc. late last year, provided a 2014 outlook that was below analysts’ expectations as it looks to invest in its digital operations.

The Toronto-based merchant, which runs Hudson’s Bay stores in Canada and Lord & Taylor south of the border, also failed to spell out its plans for its valuable real estate properties – and whether it will spin them out into a real estate income trust, The Globe and Mail's Marina Strauss reports.

The company disappointed investors with its 2014 guidance for earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization of between $580-million and $620-million, which was below analysts’ consensus forecast of between $645-million and $655-million.

Exports climb
Canada’s trade balance rebounded in February to a $290-million surplus as exports took a hefty jump.

Imports also rose, by 2.1 per cent, but that was eclipsed by the 3.6-per cent increase in exports, pumped by autos and energy, Statistics Canada said today.

The surplus, compared to January’s deficit of $337-million, was somewhat better than economists were expecting.

Export volumes rose by a lesser amount, 2.2 per cent, while prices climbed 1.4 per cent. On the import side of the ledger, prices also gained 1.4 per cent, while volumes rose just 0.6 per cent.

Canadian exports to the U.S increased by 4.4 per cent, boosting Canada’s surplus with its biggest trading partner to $4.3-billion.

Exports to other countries gained 1.1 per cent.

Canada needs better data
One of Canada’s top economists is warning about the dangers lurking from the lack of solid data on Canada’s housing market, and he’s pushing policy makers to do something about it.

In a note to be released Thursday titled “Flying Blind,” CIBC's Benjamin Tal says “the gap between the importance of the real estate market to the economy and the lack of publicly available information on it is mind-boggling," The Globe and Mail's Tara Perkins reports.

“The time to act is now,” Mr. Tal writes. “With fresh players steering our policy ship, the new Finance Minister, the new Governor of the Bank of Canada and the new head of CMHC have an opportunity to chart a course that [will] reduce any risk of a real estate bubble by making data availability a top priority.”

Mr. Tal rattles off a list of statistics that are not publicly available: the dollar value of new mortgages originated in Canada in the last quarter; the distribution of mortgages by credit score; the share of non-conforming loans and their delinquency rates; trends in re-financing and prepayments; the net equity position of new and existing mortgages; the flow of rental activity; the share of foreign investors in the condominium market; the average down payment.

Toronto sales gain
Sales of existing homes picked up in the Toronto area in March after a sluggish winter, coming in 7.2 per cent higher than a year earlier, Ms. Perkins also writes today.

But, even with the gain, sales remain a touch below their average level for this time of year.

Economists are watching to see whether the slow pace of sales across Canada through the winter month was largely related to the cold weather. Spring is traditionally the time of year when home sales are the highest, and as such March’s numbers are being closely watched for hints of what might unfold.

The Toronto area saw 8,081 existing homes change hands last month, the local real estate board reported Thursday. That’s just shy of the ten-year average level of sales for March, which is 8,107.

The average selling price, meanwhile, continued to climb, coming in nearly 8 per cent higher than a year earlier, at $557,684.

ECB holds firm
The European Central Bank says it's ready to use any instrument in its toolbox to fight dangerously low inflation, including quantitative easing, while it gambles that the improving economy will firm up prices, The Globe and Mail's Eric Reguly reports.

Quantitative easing, possibly through the purchase of assets such as bonds to inject liquidity into the financial system, was discussed extensively at the ECB’s governing council meeting today, bank president Mario Draghi said.

“The governing council is unanimous in its commitment to using also unconventional instruments within its mandate in order to cope effectively with risks of a too prolonged period of low inflation,” he said as the central bank held its benchmark rate steady at a record low.

Falling inflation rates have been ECB’s main preoccupation since last autumn.

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