Police are actively looking into a scam which had dozens of young Okotoks crafters pay for tables at markets that never happened.
Karin Nell, who has lived in town for approximately a year, now has a bad taste in her mouth when it comes to local markets, after she spent time knitting and crocheting toys and books that she never had the opportunity to sell.
"This has been a learning experience," she said. "I’m not planning on doing any of the markets again."
Nell caught the community's attention at the beginning of the month when she posted to a community Facebook group asking for contact information for the organizers of the so-called Okotoks Youth Market, after associated social media pages and email addresses she had were seemingly deleted. Her post garnered nearly 50 comments, with many people sharing similar stories.
Nell recalled a discussion where an individual claiming to be the mother of a teenage daughter had started a market, to be held at the Centennial Centre, after her child was not able to get space or afford a spot at a larger event earlier in the year.
The crafter became interested for her university student daughter, who crochets keychains and other trinkets in her spare time.
According to Nell, organizers said there would be markets in February, October and November. She was only interested in participating in the Christmas market, but her daughter wanted to take a shot at the first one.
When her daughter got sick, Nell ended up taking her place.
"My daughter got COVID so I went to do the February market on my own and it all seemed legit," she said. "We didn’t have a lot of foot traffic so it seemed the amount of advertising we were told was going to be done wasn’t done or maybe it was COVID, but it was OK."
Nell then kept her eyes focused on creating merchandise for the Christmas market, while also hearing of other events that were supposedly being organized, including a two-day market in High River that ended up getting cancelled.
Nell said at some point a group called the Okotoks Local Market became involved in organizing these "events." Event names used by the alleged scammers were similar to reputable markets and businesses like the Okotoks Farmers' Market, Local Love Co. markets and MarketSquare.
Approximately 40 to 60 vendors are thought to have signed up for each event, with a mix of both youth and adult vendors.
Even though the registration fee was just $25, Nell said it is unfortunate that an event originally marketed to young people was used to get quick cash.
"It hurts that somebody would do this, especially because this was geared towards teenagers who mostly don’t have a lot of money," she said.
Luckily, a local business owner has taken all of Nell's daughter's inventory to sell out of their storefront and Nell has moved on to making Christmas gifts for her friends and family.
RCMP has confirmed there is an active investigation into this incident. Individuals can report matters to the Okotoks detachment at 403-995-6400.