by Leah Bjornson in Vancouver
As refugees begin trickling into Canada in 2016, local police departments are warning newcomers and their sponsors to beware of con artists posing as immigration officials who might attempt to cheat them out of their money.
“Since 2014, we’ve had 14,500 reports of scams,” explains Sergeant Penny Hermann, media relations officer for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) Ontario, speaking to statistics from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) and the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA).
Out of that 14,500, just over half were reported between August 2015 and January 2016.
“From August of last year up to the date that I just got updated on Tuesday — 14,500 — it’s been almost overly doubled now,” Hermann states.
Even more troubling for Hemann is that only five per cent of mass marketing frauds are reported, according to the historical analyses done by the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.
“So if you think about it, 14,500 and that represents five per cent, how many more [are] out there?” she posits.
In these sorts of scams, fraudsters pretending to be IRCC and CRA officials call newcomer Canadians with threats about incorrect paperwork, additional fees and potential deportation.
Scammers demand anywhere between $1,300 and $7,000, which victims are told to either transfer through their bank or send using gift cards.
“When they sense that you are believing them, they go full speed ahead,” Daniel Williams, a fraud specialist at the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, explains. “They become very abrasive, very aggressive.”
“What they want is for you to be rattled, frightened, and acting out of fear,” he says.
Targeting vulnerable populations
While these sorts of scams have targeted Canadians from a diversity of backgrounds, Williams tells New Canadian Media that revenue scams most often victimize people with South Asian – particularly Indian – sounding names.
“These are folks that the bad guys are finding through what appears to be the phone book online,” he explains.
Research by the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre shows that many of these calls appear to come from “crooked call centres” in India, indicating why this community is commonly targeted. “It will be the scammers' natural inclination to scam people who speak their language,” says Williams.
Beyond that, these newcomers are sometimes targeted because they may not be as familiar with Canadian law.
“[The scammers] hope that they’re reaching people who would be less aware of the laws and more susceptible to someone intimidating them, pretending to be a government agency,” Williams explains.
When asked why these populations may be more at-risk than others, Williams acknowledged that there could be a cultural component at play.
According to Williams, people from India are generally “respectful of authority” and may be hesitant to challenge a suspicious caller claiming to be from the government.
“That’s what consumers have told me,” he explains. “It kind of makes sense. You come from a culture where authority is respected to a degree, it’s easier to get folks to follow the instructions that we’ve made for them.”
General population also at-risk
Nevertheless, Williams emphasizes that the general population is just as susceptible to being victimized by con artists as immigrants and refugees.
He states, “Scammers are quite global in their scope and they don’t pick on any one location. Everybody is fair game. They’re all vulnerable.”
While there are a few massive form frauds that do appear to be targeting newcomers, “scammers, depending on who they reach, will take money from anyone,” he adds.
Perpetrators may even be avoiding targeting the most vulnerable populations in Canada in favour of those who have more significant funds on hand to transfer, explains Williams.
Hermann agrees: “I think it’s just that they’re targeting vulnerable people. People that they think will actually give them the money.”
In Ottawa, members of the RCMP Greater Toronto Area Financial Crime Unit have launched a Fraud Awareness Campaign to warn the public of ongoing scams by imposters pretending to be CRA agents.
Hermann explains that the intent of the campaign is to “make everybody aware that governments will not go and knock on your door, they’re not going to threaten your arrest unless you pay this amount of money, they will not be doing that.”
In addition to educating incoming refugees, the campaign aims to educate refugee sponsors who might be asked for money to pay the scammers by those they’re housing.
Anyone interested in hosting a presentation about fraud “to protect these refugees coming in so that they do not get victimized” is encouraged to contact the RCMP.
When it comes to protecting yourself from being a victim of fraud, Williams’ advice is simple: “Verify, verify, verify. If people would just do that, we would defeat mass marketing fraud in a heartbeat.”
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