Woman warns the public that work-from-home scams that might seem "normal" during the pandemic

Work-from-home scams

Like many Canadians, Mellanie Buckley is looking for work in a way that makes her feel safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Buckley thought she found the perfect opportunity when she spotted a job posting for a data entry position by an Alberta woman in many local Kelowna Facebook groups.

"You'd be able to tend to your kids (or pets)," the post read. "Temporary and permanent positions available ($22/hr)."

The position was for a marketing company called Adecco Group; a company with offices all over Canada, including one in Vancouver.

The mother-of-two thought this was her chance to finally make a decent living from home. After working as a landscaper for 20 years, she took a break due to multiple injuries and thought this would be a great way to earn an income while feeling safe at home during the pandemic.

With Alberta being fairly close to Kelowna, Buckley thought the job post was legitimate. She also personally knows someone who does business with Adecco Group and was able to confirm they are a legitimate company.

When she contacted the Alberta woman about the job opportunity, she was directed to the hiring manager, who said he would be conducting the interview by texting on Google's chat program called Hangouts.

Although it seemed odd, Buckley says, "It's the new normal."

Buckley says the hiring manager's questions began normally, with him asking standard interview questions.

The interview went on for almost three hours until finally, she got the job. That was when the banking questions began.

"He asked me to take a screenshot of my mobile deposit limit or cash back limit so we know how much to issue you to avoid holds," she said.

The hiring manager told her he needed the information so that he could send her a cheque to deposit for her new computer equipment – something she would need for the job.

"No company would ever ask you that. At this point he was just trying to get more banking information out of me. That's when I told him this was weird and it seems like a scam," Buckley says.

"As soon as I said that, he stopped texting me," she adds. When she went back to Facebook, the Alberta woman's account was no where to be found – likely a fake account. However, it's still a live account and searchable on Facebook. It is also actively receiving posts from other people interested in data entry jobs.

Castanet asked the Kelowna RCMP if they have seen a spike in work-from-home scams in the past year.

"We haven't see an increase in the reports of this type of scam here in the Central Okanagan," explains Cpl. Jocelyn Noseworthy, Media Relations Officer. "But it makes sense during a time where so many people are not able to find work in a traditional capacity that scammers would attempt this method of obtaining information."

Adecco Group is a well-known staffing agency with over 50 years of experience in the industry – and they're frustrated with the scam, too.

"Unfortunately, we’ve recently become aware of this; we contacted the police and frustratingly, they won’t act on our complaint. They want to hear from the victims of the fraud directly," said Christine Marinho, Marketing Director for The Adecco Group.

"We do post jobs on our Facebook pages and advertise our postings on social media," she adds. "But those jobs will always point back to apply to our website and it’s important that candidates be aware of the email addresses of those that are contacting them. All our emails end with @adecco.ca."

As for Buckley, she says this incident was a lesson learned and one she wants to share with the community. Although she saw the red flags, someone more vulnerable and less experienced may not.

For more information on how to protect yourself from any scams, Cpl. Noseworthy encourages the public to click here.

With a trial set for next week, the Crown has stayed charges related to alleged 2019 kidnapping

Kidnapping charges stayed

Three people were originally scheduled to face trial in Kelowna's BC Supreme Court next week for a high-profile kidnapping, but the Crown has stayed the charges.

On Feb. 27, 2019, a man suffering serious injuries was dropped off at Kelowna General Hospital. He told police he had attended a Kelowna home to buy drugs, but was held against his will and assaulted.

A few days later on the evening of March 1, Kelowna RCMP and the Emergency Response Team arrested five people at several locations across Kelowna in connection with the incident.

Clayton Zeleniski, 50, Dalton Zeleniski, 20, Shane Haines, 34, Timothy Hennessy, 39, and Nicole Sidhu, 26, were all charged with a variety of charges in relation to the incident, including kidnapping, aggravated assault and unlawful confinement.

All five were released on bail shortly after their arrest, and within the next several months, all but Clayton Zeleniski were charged with breaching their bail conditions.

Exactly one year after the injured man showed up at KGH, the Crown dropped all charges against Sidhu and Dalton Zeleniski, but a preliminary inquiry proceeded for the remaining three accused.

A preliminary inquiry is held to test the Crown's evidence in front of a judge, who determines if the matter should proceed to a Supreme Court trial.

A judge determined the Crown's case against Clayton Zeleniski, Shane Haines and Timothy Hennessy was strong enough to proceed, and a trial was scheduled for Jan. 18, 2021.

But last October, the Crown stayed all charges against the three accused for the alleged kidnapping incident.

As is generally the case in these situations, the Crown would not say what changed in the seven months between the conclusion of the preliminary inquiry and the staying of the charges.

Dan McLaughlin, spokesperson for the BC Prosecution Service, said the charge was stayed “after the BCPS received further information related to the charges before the court.”

“After carefully reviewing this information and the other available evidence against the accused, the Crown Counsel with conduct of the file determined that the charge assessment standard was no longer met,” McLaughlin added.

Clayton Zeleniski is still facing unrelated weapons charges after police executed a search warrant at his house on Gerstmar Road on Jan. 28. Despite his extensive criminal history, he was released on bail until his most recent arrest last weekend.

He now faces additional charges related to an alleged home invasion Saturday night on Rutland's Webster Road.

Meanwhile, Dalton Zeleniski was charged with assault for a June 1, 2019 incident, but that charge was also stayed by the Crown last January, on the day he was set to face trial.

Shane Haines has outstanding firearms and resisting arrest charges from last June in the Lower Nicola region, along with uttering threats and breaching release order charges stemming from last July in Williams Lake.

City of Kelowna upgrades LED lighting in two parkades

LED lights, brighter & safer

If things seem a little brighter in the parkade these days, it's not your imagination.

Kelowna's manager of parking services Dave Duncan tells Castanet the lighting improvements are part of the LED lighting upgrades announced by the city last year.

"Council approved the upgrades at the Chapman Parkade and the Library Parkade and then we had to scope out the product. Then when COVID-19 hit and the supply chain fell apart we fell behind with installations."

Duncan says the upgrades are wrapping up at both the Chapman Parkade and the Library Parkade. The new Memorial Parkade on Ellis St. was built with the new LED lighting already in place.

It may not sound sexy, but the new lighting is expected to save the city hundreds of thousands of dollars over the next decade and has enhanced safety features.

"Each fixture has its own sensor so it dims when there is little activity and then as soon as there is activity they brighten up," Duncan says.

The cost of replacing the old fixtures with new LED lighting was $269,000 but Duncan says they expect to cover those costs relatively quickly.

"We expect them to pay for themselves in about six years and we expect to save $500,000 in the first 10 years," says Duncan.

The new LED lights are programmable, and depending on the intensity settings, use between 25 and 50 per cent less energy.

Saving money and going greener are all well and good but the lighting also enhances safety. The new lights can get quite bright and allow for higher visibility in dark areas.

The interior of the Chapman Parkade has also been repainted a bright white which when combined with the new lighting brightens up the whole interior for safety as well.


Kelowna woman thanks good Samaritan for restoring her faith

Faith in humanity restored

A Kelowna woman is thanking her lucky stars and the good Samaritan who found her credit card and motel key and returned everything to her.

Linda Ross tells Castanet that like many people she is having a rough time during COVID-19 and is between homes until February, so she is living in a motel with all of her belongings spread out across the city.

"Everybody is so anxious, understandably so. Even without COVID-19, I had the year from hell."

So Ross felt like she was dealt another blow when she realized that she had lost her credit card and her motel key somewhere along the line.

Ross says she doesn't like to carry her purse with her, so she had her credit card and her motel key in her pocket when she went into the Dollarama at Burtch Rd. and Harvey Ave.

"I guess when I pulled my keys out of my pocket the cards must have fallen on the ground in the parking lot," says Ross.

Ross says she had given up on finding them and cancelled her credit card, so she was very surprised when she got a phone call from her bank telling her that her cards had been found and turned in.

"They drove from Harvey Avenue to the RBC in downtown Kelowna. It was a delightful surprise when the bank called to say they found my cards," says Ross.

Ross says she has no idea who the good Samaritan is, but she knows what she would do if she got the chance.

"If I could I'd give them a big hug and say thank you for restoring my faith in humanity."

BC Housing looks to build 20 storey affordable housing tower in downtown Kelowna

BC Housing building up

BC Housing is the latest to jump on the downtown development bandwagon in Kelowna.

The provincial government's housing agency is looking to construct a 20-storey affordable housing tower on Bertram Street, across from another proposed 46-storey tower.

The building, still in its early stages, would be the first of its kind in the Interior, and a large departure from BC Housing's typical smaller apartment style builds.

Neighbourhood consultations on the project at 1451 and 1469 Bertram began in late summer of last year and, based on feedback, BC Housing says it made some changes around the number of units which will be available, a focus on environmental elements and landscaping.

The overall project, as it sits now, would include a three-storey parkade podium and 17 storeys of housing featuring 162 independent living units and daycare.

A separate five-storey building would be attached to the north side of the tower, housing 14 additional townhomes.

They say the development will not include supportive housing or short-term rentals.

BC Housing is accepting questions and comments until the end of January.

Sometime in February, BC Housing will formally apply to the city to redevelop the property.

They will be seeking OCP and zoning amendments as well as a height variance to go from the current allowed 12 storeys to 20.

It will still be several months before city council sees the application.

BC Housing says it doesn't expect to begin construction until later this year or early 2022.

This is one of two affordable housing projects BC Housing is proposing for the city.

The other, which is moving through the staff pipeline, is Phase 2 of Pleasantvale in the city's north end.

Pleasantvale, similar to the first phase, would include 20 townhouses and 48 apartment units specifically for seniors.

Tourism Kelowna highlights things to do locally during the winter pandemic

Local tourism: what to do

Weather in Kelowna has been relatively mild, and with snow covering the higher elevations, there’s lots you can do safely and locally.

While its not the time to be travelling with the current COVID-19 restrictions in place, its a great time to get outside, support local and remain active.

“If anything positive has come out of this pandemic, it is innovation and ways that businesses can find for people to obey public health orders or even exceed them,” says Tourism Kelowna’s director of visitor experience Chris Lewis.

Many local restaurants are offering winter patio experiences such as OAK & CRU’s dining globes or Rustic Reel’s fire pit rentals.

And if you’re wanting to get outside, there’s lots to do on the local trails, “whether that’s fat biking, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, or just enjoying some of our hundreds of parks that we have here in the Central Okanagan,” says Lewis.

“We have a couple of world-class ski resorts within an hour's drive and then many other cross-country skiing areas as well.”

This includes Big White, Telemark Nordic Club, Silverstar and more.

If you’re looking to snowshoe, consider Myra Canyon.

“You may have to go a little bit higher to find the snow right now. Myra Canyon is always a beautiful place to cross-country ski, walk or snowshoe in the winter. Of course you do need an all-wheel drive vehicle to get up there this time of year,” explains Lewis.

Nearly all regional parks remain open and in some cases, directional traffic flow is being followed to allow for social distancing.

Or maybe you’re just missing that feeling you get when you pack up a suitcase and check-in at a hotel.

“Some people might not realize some of the amazing amenities that our local accommodation properties have whether that is a vacation rental or hotel. Things like hot tubs and pools - if you stay local in one of our staycation properties then you can enjoy those kinds of amenities,” says Lewis.

While small businesses expect slower numbers in the winter, with the added COVID-19 restrictions, this winter has been especially challenging.

“Its more important now than ever to support them as much as we can, to get them into the spring and summer so they can continue to thrive,” adds Lewis.

Looking ahead, in correlation with provincial health orders, Tourism Kelowna is gearing up for the spring season.

“We’re hoping that things will change come spring and summer when people can spend more time outdoors because of the warmer weather, but we have to wait and see what happens there, but we are busy preparing as much as we ever have,” says Lewis.

OIMAS partners with the Kelowna Gospel Mission to create a new mural in downtown Kelowna

New mural coming to town

The Okanagan Indigenous Music and Arts Society (OIMAS) launched an artistic mural and beautification project on Friday.

The proposed site for, "Honouring Our Stories," is at the rear facade of the Kelowna Gospel Mission (KGM) located at 251 Leon Avenue. It will aim to enhance the experience of visitors and residents entering Kelowna from the William R. Bennett Bridge.

The Okanagan Indigenous Music and Arts Society says the installation will be an important act of reconciliation because it will join a faith-based organization to give hope to Kelowna's hungry, homeless, and housing-insecure through a depiction of strength and survival.

The Kelowna Gospel Mission will parallel this initiative with their own internal work around truth and reconciliation.

“We are eager to step into this work with renewed conviction over the coming months. Our hope is that this beautification work on the exterior of our building will mirror an internal beautification work at the Gospel Mission. We are thankful for Okanagan Indigenous Music and Arts Society for helping to lead us in this holistic effort of change and growth," says Carmen Rempel, KGM Executive Director.

OIMAS says Indigenous art installations have transformative effects on public spaces.

The project will be based upon a weekly virtual presentation, “Stories with Sncwips Heritage Museum,” focusing on sharing captikw, aiming to create safe spaces for learning.

“It is our hope that the captikw we share will inspire and educate the artists involved to create a mural that reflects the heritage and natural history of the syilx people. It is also our hope that this project will help transform and reclaim the traditional unceded territory of the syilx people,” says Kayt Ell, spokesperson for the Sncwips Heritage Museum.

OIMAS will be reaching out to Indigenous artists from across the nation to submit original art pieces.

Film and television shoots on the rise in Okanagan for 2021

Movie action in Okanagan

Film and television production in the Okanagan remains at a fever pace, at least in the first few weeks of 2021.

Okanagan Film Commissioner Jon Summerland says 2020 was a stellar year, and so far, the pace has not slowed down.

"The first production in 2021 is going to camera on January 25, the start of many non-stop films and television (productions) lined up to shoot here in 2021," says Summerland.

Summerland says 2020 was challenging because of COVID-19, but in the end, things worked out well for the Okanagan.

“Not only are we already starting up production, but a lot of good projects are already lined up and coming. Hollywood is scouting here, bigger production companies are setting up in the Okanagan, and major studios are looking.”

“We have a slate of MOW’s (movies of the week) with Hallmark and Lifetime films that are booked and will be bringing significant production activity into the middle of the year.”

The first Hallmark movie of the week, Christmas Au Pair, goes to camera on January 25 and stars two Canadian actors, Kayla Lauren Wallace (The Magicians, The Good Doctor) and Jeremey Guilbaut (A Harvest Wedding, Summer in the Vineyard). The Executive Producer is Gilles LaPlante, Senior VP, Reel One Pictures Inc. Reel One Pictures has gone so far as to set up a permanent production shop in Rutland.

A substantial anchor for the Okanagan film and TV industry was dropped in late November when Enderby Entertainment announced it was expanding its global operation in Canada with a feature film and television production office in Kelowna.

“I’m so proud to open our second office in Kelowna, British Columbia…We’ve fortunately been able to see the growth of the Okanagan region and all the work Jon Summerland has done with the film commission… The groundwork for a large-scale film industry has been laid," said president and CEO of Enderby Entertainment, Rick Dugdale.

Another event scheduled for the Kelowna Curling Club has been cancelled

Junior curling scrapped

The Kelowna Curling Club has lost another major event.

The provincial junior curling championship (U21), scheduled for later this spring, has been cancelled.

CurlBC made the announcement Friday morning.

The national championship associated with the event had already been cancelled.

The cancellation was announced due to provincial health restrictions on group sport as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The latest extension of the restrictions has seen a surge in clubs deciding to shut for the remainder of the 2020-21 season.," said Scott Braley, CEO of CurlBC.

“There are still many unknowns about the length of the season for those clubs that remain open, so we decided it was not practical to press ahead with plans for spring championships. We understand this will be a huge disappointment. However, we also know that it is the best way to keep everyone safe and give more flexibility to host clubs who may need to close at short notice.”

The Kelowna Curling Club remains open.

13 new cases linked to Big White cluster, 32 remain active

13 new Big White cases

Interior Health has announced 13 new COVID-19 cases linked to the Big White community cluster.

The total number of cases identified to date now sits at 175, although just 32 cases are still active and in isolation. Of the 175 cases, 110 reside on Big White Mountain.

Big White has said that Interior Health defines anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 and declares they have visited the resort in the past 14 days as linked to the Big White cluster.

The health authority is reminding everyone at Big White to avoid gatherings and keep socialization to immediate household bubbles. “Please follow public health guidance such as physical distancing, washing your hands regularly and wearing a mask.”

“The risk remains low for families and individuals visiting Big White Mountain who follow public health guidance,” Interior Health said. "In other words, it is safe to go to Big White when you stick to your immediate household bubble and avoid socializing and gathering, etc.”

Interior Health is continuing outreach COVID-19 testing throughout the Big White community and environmental public health inspections.

The next update on the outbreak will be Tuesday.

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