Tree-cutting hoax investigated in West Vancouver

Police in a well-to-do Metro Vancouver community are investigating a strange hoax where residents have received letters telling them to shorten their trees or face heavy fines.

The official-looking letters circulated in the Westhill area of West Vancouver tell homeowners they could be fined up to $30,000 unless they trim their trees to no more than two metres above the height of their houses.

The letters, with a convincing West Vancouver letterhead, carry the signature of John Barrow, director of garden regulations.

But unless recipients in the heavily treed neighbourhood checked, they might not know that no one named John Barrow works for the district and the document is a fake, said West Vancouver Police spokesman Cpl. Fred Harding.

"It's not from the district of West Van," Harding said. "It's a very well conceived, very creative fraud, and forgery as well, by the way, and it carries a severe penalty if the person is actually tracked down and caught."

Harding said police believe the notice was being distributed by someone hoping to get a neighbour to cut down trees, possibly to improve the fraudster's view and sightlines.

Police are asking homeowners who get the notice to hand them in to police, along with any tips they may have.

"This particular type of scam is a new play on the trick where you're getting someone else to do all your dirty work. And you're getting the people who own the property to do what you want them to do," said Harding.

So far, there have been no reports of anyone falling for the hoax and topping their trees.

With files from the CBC's Tim Weekes