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How to Avoid Scams that Target Newcomers to Canada


Published January 24, 2024 • 14 Min Read

When you’re new to Canada, it can take several months to get used to the way things are done here. Whether that’s figuring out banking and financial processes or how employers typically contact potential candidates for a job, while you’re still figuring out the way of life in Canada, you may be a target for scams and instances of fraud.

The best way to protect yourself from scams is by learning how to identify common scams that target newcomers in Canada, staying on the lookout for red flags that may indicate risk, and knowing how to report fraud.

Here are some common scams in Canada and tips to help you protect yourself and your family.

Common scams that target newcomers to Canada

Phishing emails

Phishing emails often impersonate sources you trust, such as your bank, employer, or subscription services. These emails will typically encourage you to click on a link and share sensitive personal information. The email may also include a file you’re asked to download, which may be a virus or malicious software. In many cases, the sender may try to create a sense of urgency, such as by claiming that there has been suspicious activity through your account, that your payment information needs to be updated, or that you have won a prize. Any personal information you share, such as your credit card number, SIN, or bank account number, will be intercepted by the scammer and may be misused. Similar scams may also happen over text messages or phone calls designed on similar lines.

Links in some phishing emails may lead to web pages that closely resemble your bank’s payment page or another website you’re familiar with. However, do not enter any information without verifying the URL (web address) of the web page.

If you suspect an email is a phishing attempt, check the sender’s email address. A domain name that doesn’t match the company’s name, poor design or font selection, and bad spelling or grammar, can all be signs of a phishing scam. Do not click on any links in the email or download any attachments. Do not share any personal or financial information over email or text. You can verify the authenticity of the email by calling the organization’s publically available phone number directly.

Credit card or debit card fraud

This type of fraud occurs when someone steals your payment card or payment card information, such as your Personal Identification Number (PIN) or CVV/CVC code and misuses it to make transactions from your account. Credit card scammers don’t necessarily need to have your physical credit card — they can also make purchases using your card details.

You can protect yourself from debit and credit card fraud by keeping your credit card and credit card information safe. Shred bank statements and documents before putting them in the garbage, be cautious while entering your PIN at an ATM or point-of-sale machine, and never share your credit card information on suspicious or fake websites.

Be sure to keep close track of your chequing and credit card statements so you’re able to identify suspicious transactions quickly. Use your banking app to track transactions. If you suspect your credit card or debit card has been misused, contact your bank immediately and get your card locked. Some banks allow clients to remotely lock their credit and debit cards using the mobile banking application if their payment cards are stolen or lost.

Tax scams or fake phone calls supposedly from CRA

You may get phone calls from people posing as Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) officials, claiming you are being investigated for tax evasion or tax fraud. The caller may try to scare you or threaten to arrest or deport you if you don’t pay them. They may ask you to transfer funds to them in the form of prepaid debit or credit cards, gift cards, or cryptocurrency. Alternatively, you may be asked or pressured into sharing personal or financial information.

There are a few variations of tax-related scams in Canada that newcomers should watch out for. You may receive an email or text message claiming you’re entitled to a tax refund and that you can access your refund amount by clicking on the included link and sharing your personal information. Keep in mind that the CRA will only contact you via their secure messaging portal and will never directly email or text you. Nor will you ever be asked to click on links to get a refund.

In another version of the tax scam, you may get a text message stating that you owe taxes or duties on a package, and the package will only be released after you make an online payment.

SIN-related fraud

You may get a phone call or email from someone posing as a Service Canada official claiming that your Social Insurance Number (SIN) has been compromised. The caller may claim that your SIN has been stolen or used in an illegal activity. They may ask you to confirm your SIN number and share “verification details” such as your date of birth, address, and more, which could result in identity theft.

The best way to avoid SIN-related scams is to keep your SIN safe and only share it when necessary. As a newcomer, you may need to share your SIN with your bank while applying for credit products, with government agencies such as the CRA, or with an employer after being hired. However, you do not need to share your SIN with potential landlords or other third parties.

Immigration scams

You can become a target for immigration and visa scams even before coming to Canada. Fake agents and consultants may offer guarantees that they can get your study permit, work permit, or permanent residence application approved if you pay them. They may also ask you to pay for immigration application forms or guides (which the IRCC provides for free) or encourage you to “apply” for Canadian immigration programs that don’t exist. If you plan to work with a consultant, make sure they are licensed by the College of Immigration and Citizenship Consultants (CICC). You should also do your research regarding the various immigration programs Canada offers and the application process and fees for each.

Some immigration scams target recently landed newcomers in Canada. For instance, you may receive a call or email from someone pretending to be from the IRCC, claiming that your immigration paperwork was incorrect or that you only paid part of the application fee. They may threaten to revoke your immigration status or visa and deport you if you do not pay the pending fee or fine. You may also be asked to share sensitive information to “verify” your identity.

Never share personal information or make payments to anyone posing as an IRCC official. IRCC will only communicate with you via their secure messaging portal and will not contact you over text messages or phone calls.

Fake job scams

Newcomers are particularly vulnerable to employment scams as they may not always be familiar with how the Canadian job market works and the recruitment processes Canadian employers follow. A common fake job scam involves fraudulent employment agencies or recruiters who promise to get you a job in Canada for a fee. In Canada, employment agents get paid by the employers, not by potential employees, so steer clear of agents who ask you to pay for their employment services.

Some agents may ask you to pay for and undergo training to improve your “eligibility” for a job in Canada. In some cases, they may send you a fake job offer and then ask you to pay for training. However, at the end of the training, they may ask for additional money or tell you that you did not perform well enough to pass the training and won’t get the job. Beware of agents or “employers” who ask for upfront payment in return for a job.

If you receive a job offer from an organization you did not apply to or interview for, it is likely a scam. In such cases, the “employer” may ask for your SIN and bank information and then disappear. Alternatively, some unscrupulous companies hire people for jobs that are very different from what the job description says, such as pyramid schemes or door-to-door sales jobs.

In another type of employment scam, you may receive a “calendar invite” for a fake interview (for a job you did not apply for). However, the file you download is actually a virus or malware that can intercept and transmit your personal information without your knowledge.

Housing scams

Finding affordable housing is often a priority for newcomers and, as a result, newcomers may be more susceptible to housing scams. In the most common version of this scam, a fraudster will create a fake listing on a rental website using photographs of an attractive home and listing a monthly rent that’s well below market value.

Once you contact them to set up a showing, they may ask for a deposit or claim that the owner of the property is travelling and an in-person showing cannot be arranged. They may try to rush you into paying a deposit (or even a few months’ rent) by insisting that other people are also interested in renting the home. You may be asked to wire funds abroad or pay in cash.

In many housing scams, the property listed for rent does not exist or does not belong to the person posing as the landlord. Unless you’re working with a trusted real estate agent, never pay an upfront deposit without seeing a home in person.

Investment or pyramid scheme scams

You may receive an email that supposedly gives you an opportunity to invest in a lucrative business or start-up. The scammer may promise significant returns on your investment or claim that you won’t need to invest any time in the venture.

Some “investment” schemes may be Ponzi schemes where you invest in a “fund” that gives very high dividends. However, there will be very little information available on what the fund is and how your money will be invested. In most cases, such funds do not exist and investments from new investors (you) are used to pay dividends to others who’ve fallen victim to these schemes. Soon the scammer is unable to find new investors and the dividend payouts stop, leaving you and the other investors with a hefty loss.

Some scammers also lure newcomers into pyramid schemes, where you may be promised commissions if you bring in more members. You may be asked to pay upfront for membership, training or an initial batch of products. You may be told that you’ll soon make your money back once you receive commissions on not just your own sales but also those of the other members you bring into the organization.

Any business model that lacks transparency on how the business operates and makes money may be a scam. Never make investment decisions without learning all you can about the company or consulting your financial advisor or lawyer.

Computer virus scams

You may see pop-up ads or get an email or call saying that your computer has been hacked or infected with a virus. The scammer may claim that they have access to your personal files, banking passwords, and more, and will misuse them unless you send them money. Alternatively, they may ask you to give them physical or remote access to your device so they can remove the virus.

You can help protect yourself against malware and virus attacks by installing reliable antivirus software. Also, unless you are taking your computer or mobile device to a reputable service provider or someone you trust, never give anyone access to your devices.

Fake prize scams

You may receive a text message or email claiming you’ve won a lottery or an attractive prize, such as a cash reward, car, cruise, etc. The scammer may then ask you to fill out a form with your sensitive personal information or pay a small legal fee or some taxes that are due on your winnings.

Try to recall whether you purchased the lottery in question or if you signed up for any sweepstakes or contests. If you don’t remember registering for any such reward, the text or email is likely a scam. Also, legitimate companies or lottery operators will never ask you to make an upfront payment to gain access to your prizes. Demands for “tax” payments on supposed lottery winnings are also red flags because unexpected winnings such as lotteries are not taxed in Canada.

8 tips to avoid scams as a newcomer to Canada

Here are some tips to keep in mind to help you identify and avoid scams:

    1. Your bank or financial institution will never ask for your Social Insurance Number, credit card details, PIN, or other personal information over the phone or email, except to verify information they already have on file. You should only provide personal information for verification purposes to your bank if you initiated the call.

    2. Learn how to identify phishing emails. Bad formatting, spelling or grammar can all be signs of a phishing email. If an email seems suspicious, carefully check the sender’s email address and do not click on any links within the email.

    3. Never share personal or financial information over email or enter any sensitive information into linked forms linked in phishing emails.

    4. IRCC or law enforcement officials will never threaten you over a phone call, text, or email. They will also never demand payment in the form of fines or threaten to arrest, deport, or physically assault you or your family members.

    5. If you’re unsure about the legitimacy of a call, ask the caller for their name and designation and hang up. Find the organization’s listed phone number on their website and contact the relevant department to verify whether someone had called you.

    6. Beware of landlords, employment agencies, or employers asking for upfront payment. Similarly, legitimate government or financial stakeholders won’t try to rush you into making payments.

    7. Any third party that asks for fee payment through unconventional or untraceable channels, such as prepaid debit cards, gift cards, or cryptocurrency may be trying to scam you.

    8. Steer clear of agents or third parties who “guarantee” that they’ll get you a Canadian visa, PR, study permit, or a job in Canada in exchange for money. Decisions on immigration applications are made by the IRCC and consultants cannot get your application prioritized. Similarly, hiring decisions are made by Canadian employers after screening applicant resumes and conducting interviews, and an employment consultant cannot promise that you will get hired in Canada.

How to report scams and fraud in Canada

If you’ve been the target of a phone, internet, email or other scam or accidentally gave out your personal or financial information, contact the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre and report the scam online or by calling 1-888-495-8501 toll-free.

If you’ve lost your debit or credit card or suspect that it has been misused, contact your bank or financial institution immediately to lock your card. RBC allows you to lock your debit or credit card via the mobile banking app with a single click. You can also easily report your card as lost or stolen to avoid being held accountable for transactions you did not make.

If you suspect your SIN has been stolen or misused, you must file a police report, and report the fraud to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, as well as to both credit bureaus, Equifax and TransUnion. Once you’ve done that, you should visit Service Canada with a copy of the police report, proof that someone has misused your SIN, and an identity document.

There may be instances where you’re not completely certain whether an email, text, or phone call is fraudulent. Banking advisors can help educate you on how to protect yourself against financial fraud and scams.

This article is intended as general information only and is not to be relied upon as constituting legal, financial or other professional advice. A professional advisor should be consulted regarding your specific situation. Information presented is believed to be factual and up-to-date but we do not guarantee its accuracy and it should not be regarded as a complete analysis of the subjects discussed. All expressions of opinion reflect the judgment of the authors as of the date of publication and are subject to change. No endorsement of any third parties or their advice, opinions, information, products or services is expressly given or implied by Royal Bank of Canada or any of its affiliates.

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