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Steer clear of scams
New immigrants can be an easy target for con artists. Here’s how to protect you and your family from becoming a victim of fraud
Fraud threatens every Canadian, regardless of education, age or income. According to Federal Competition Bureau, Canadians lost an estimated $290 million to fraudsters between January 2014 and December 2016—and a disproportionate number of the victims were new immigrants. The question, then, is how can you protect your hard-earned money?
“Scam artists continue to use both traditional, off-line techniques, such door-to-door sales or fake telephone calls, as well as online strategies,” explains Ron Mycholuk, a spokesman with the Better Business Bureau of Central and Northern Alberta. “Often these scam artists prey on fear and a lack of knowledge.” For instance, a new immigrant might not know that they have 10 days to cancel a contract they signed when they’re dealing with a high-pressure sales representative; or a fraudster could prey on a new immigrant’s fear by threatening to freeze their assets, call the police or cancel their Canadian visa.
“No matter what the offer or threat is, the key is not to react,” says Mycholuk. “Instead, check it out. Find out if there’s truth behind the claim.” For Mycholuk this means doing some research. “Knowledge and prevention are key.”
To protect your family and your hard-earned money, here are the six most prevalent scams currently targeting new immigrants, based on the number of complaints received by the Better Business Bureau (BBB), plus some advice on how to handle each situation.
Professional immigration representative
Telephone scammers will call and impersonate federal officials from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC). Quite often, the fake representative will use the victim’s name and claim that they failed to report or update their immigration status. The victim is then told they have a short period of time—one hour or a day—to pay a fine or face deportation, loss of passport and citizenship. “The scammers want you to make a fast decision and to react quickly,” says Mycholuk, “and this is a big, red flag.”
Under no circumstance will an IRCC official ever contact a client by phone in order to collect fines to avoid deportation. If any payments are required, the IRCC provides ample time and encourages payment of fees through a bank—never through a pre-paid credit card or through a private money transfer service, such as Western Union. When in doubt, contact the IRCC call centre directly at 1-888-242-2100.
The most reported scam to BBB Scam Tracker deals with employment scams. These are the emails or phone calls that promise a great job opportunity. “You have to ask yourself: How did they get my contact information if I didn’t even apply for a job?” says Mycholuk. Quite often these scams involve a work-from-home offer and ask you to send in money or provide personal details, such as your Social Insurance Number (SIN). Almost always, these schemes are simply too good to be true.
“Always do research on a company before sending personal information, giving money or accepting a position,” says Mycholuk. “Good companies will stand behind their reputation and will have no problem with you researching the company or the offer.” While complaints or warnings are a clear indication that the offer is a scam, so is an empty slate. “Finding nothing on the company or the offer is also a big red flag.”
Beware of calls or emails asking for personal information, such as your SIN or your credit card number. Scammers try to steal your identity by getting access to credit card information and personal identification. If they do steal your identity they’ll apply for and use credit cards, bank loans and even rent property all in your name—and you could be on the hook with a big bill to pay.
An easy way to avoid identify theft is to frequently change online passwords and to avoid carrying your SIN card with you in your wallet. Also, never give your credit card information over the phone or through email.
Canada Revenue Agency telephone and email scam
This scam preys on fear. The caller demands that taxes are owed and that payment must be made immediately or the police will be called or visas revoked.
If you’re really concerned, ask the caller for their name, identification number (all government employees have one) and a toll-free number where you can call to verify the authenticity of the call. Then hang up. Use an internet search to get the Canada Revenue Agency toll-free number and call to confirm. If the call was legitimate, the person’s name and employee number, as well as a record of the call or email, will be on file. That said, the Canada Revenue Agency rarely calls or emails to request information, relying instead on postal mail. Also, the CRA will never make threatening phone calls.
Paying to get a loan
It is illegal in North America to require an upfront fee when applying for a loan. Quite often, however, these scammers prey on new immigrants who are unfamiliar with our banking laws or don’t currently qualify for a standard mortgage or personal loan arrangement.
Rather than rush into a high-cost purchase that requires a loan, such as a house, concentrate on building up a solid Canadian credit score. “Apply for and regularly use two credit cards, or secured credit cards, for at least six months,” suggests Janet Gray, an Ottawa-based Money Coach and financial planner. Do this for six months—making sure you pay off the balance each month—and you’ll not only establish Canadian credit history, but you’ll have an excellent credit score. This score will then be used by banks and lenders to help you qualify for loans and mortgages from banks that give you access to reasonable interest rates and standard terms.
Fake lottery winnings
Quite often, new immigrants come to Canada for better opportunities, so a call to say you won the lottery can seem like a dream come true. But in Canada, if you didn’t enter you simply can’t win. Still, many victims are enticed by the personalized correspondence they get from scammers. The use of their name, along with a description of the high-value prizes can entice someone to claim their prize, but not before paying a fee or handing over valuable personal information.
Keep in mind that in North America, you don’t have to pay a fee to collect lottery winnings and you never have to give personal information to qualify for a prize. When in doubt, contact the provincial gaming authority or the corporation sponsoring the prize, directly.
In order to avoid being victim to any scam, slow down and research the offer, claim or threat. “The worst thing you can do is make a snap decision,” says Mycholuk. Take the time to find out if the claim or offer is legitimate. Learn your rights and responsibilities as a consumer and as a Canadian. “The key is to be proactive, not reactive.”