Canada has a reputation for being one of the most welcoming countries in the world for immigrants. But not everyone here wants to see you succeed.
For Canada’s current generation of thieves, immigrants — even those who haven’t yet arrived in the country — make ideal targets for a variety of online and telephone scams.
Hiding behind fake phone numbers, email addresses and identities, criminals may attempt to exploit your lack of knowledge about Canadian customs and laws to draw you into phony scenarios that can have real financial consequences. In 2021, the impact of fraud in Canada totaled $383 million, according to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.
But these scams are usually simple and unsophisticated; they are not the work of evil geniuses. Once you know how to identify such scams, you can prevent yourself from becoming a victim.
Scams to look for before getting to Canada
Immigration service scams
Victims usually encounter these scams by visiting websites that offer to expedite visa processes. These sites claim that their services make applying for a visa quick and easy, and that they’ve achieved a high rate of success for their clients. Those promises can be hard to resist for anyone worried that their visa will be denied.
To make use of these services, which may or may not work, you’ll have to pay more than you would if you applied directly with the appropriate government agency, says Jeff Horncastle, the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre’s acting client and communications outreach officer. To complete your application, you will have to hand over personal information that should only be shared with trustworthy parties.
“New immigrants may not be aware that if they are looking to apply for a visa, they should be contacting Immigration Canada,” Horncastle says.
Keep yourself safe:
- Contact the Canadian consulate in your region and verify that the organization is a legitimate business that is affiliated with the government. Ask for any other information you might need about the visa application process, too.
- If you’re confident that the company can help you, carefully read any terms, conditions and cancellation policies, and watch out for any hidden fees.
Job scams that promise immigration to Canada
Some scammers create fake job postings that promise a path to immigration to Canada. These postings may look legitimate, use the names of real companies, and even have you go through an actual interview. But if you apply for one of these phony positions, you’ll be sharing your personal information with criminals.
The threat here is twofold. First, the personal and financial information you share could be used for identity theft. Second, another participant in the scam may contact you and ask for money to secure passports, visas or permits as part of a purely fictional immigration process.
“Too often, victims will send money many times before they realize that the job does not exist,” Horncastle says .
Keep yourself safe:
- Find legitimate job postings at www.jobbank.gc.ca and accurate information about applying to travel to, study in, work in or immigrate to Canada at www.canada.ca.
- Research any company you’re thinking of applying to. Read reviews from employees and contact its human resources department to confirm that they are hiring.
Scams to avoid once you arrive in Canada
Mystery shopper/personal assistant/quality control officer scams
In these scams, people receive a cheque in the mail along with a notice that they’ve been chosen to fill an unsolicited job, like a secret shopper or quality control officer, that requires them to make several purchases or bank transactions.
Victims are told to deposit the money into their personal bank account and then immediately withdraw most of it. They are then instructed to deposit the withdrawn funds into a specific bank account, or purchase gift cards and provide the gift card numbers to the fraudsters.
At every step, victims are asked to complete and submit a fake customer service survey based on their experiences. The surveys often help convince people that the job is real, but they later find out that the cheque they deposited is fake and that they now owe money to their bank.
Keep yourself safe:
- Ignore any offers for jobs you didn’t apply for.
- Be wary if a “company” uses a web-based email address, like a Gmail account, instead of one from a personalized domain.
- If a job sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Service Canada/CRA/Government of Canada phone scams
You’ll know you’ve become a Canadian when your phone is constantly bombarded with calls and texts from scammers pretending to be representatives of government bodies like Service Canada, the Canada Revenue Agency or the Department of Justice.
These callers will often ask you to provide your Social Insurance Number or other personal information, which can result in identity theft.
Other Social Insurance Number-related scams involve calls or texts that say your SIN has been linked to criminal activity and may be blocked. Fraudsters may then ask for your personal information, including your bank balances, that can be used for identity fraud. They may also request that you deposit money into a “safe account”, or, in rare cases, send someone posing as a police officer to pick up the money in person.
Keep yourself safe:
- Don’t assume that the names or phone numbers on your call display are accurate. Fraudsters can manipulate caller IDs to make it seem as if a government agency is calling you.
- No government agency will contact you and threaten to block your SIN. Real police officers will not show up at your home to demand a payment.
- If you believe that you may have provided personal information to a scammer, contact Canada’s credit reporting bureaus, Equifax and TransUnion, to place fraud alerts on your accounts.
Best practices for avoiding scams
No matter where you live, there are other strategies you can use to prevent yourself from becoming the victim of a scam.
- If you receive an unsolicited text, email or telephone call requesting personal information or money, ignore it. Don’t click on any links or attachments contained in these messages.
- Remember that the Government of Canada will never send funds by email or request them by text message.
- Also remember that law enforcement officers will not threaten to arrest you by phone or email.
As a newcomer to Canada, scammers are hoping you don’t know how the country’s government agencies, banks or police forces operate. But you don’t need to understand the ins and outs of our institutions to protect yourself against fraud. You just need to be careful and, whenever your phone starts vibrating, a little skeptical.