Fraudsters net thousands in Edmonton with immigration scam, police warn

Vasant Chotai got a scary phone call on Thursday. “He told me the government was reviewing files of all the immigrants for the last 60 years, and they’re looking at any discrepancies in the files.”

'I suspect a lot of people would give out the money to these people'

Vasant Choati got a call Thursday from a scammer claiming to be with Immigration Canada. (CBC)

Vasant Chotai got a scary phone call on Thursday.

It was a long distance call, and when he answered the caller knew his name and address, and knew he was an immigrant.

The caller told Chotai he was from Immigration Canada, and said he would put his "supervisor" on the line.

"He told me the government was reviewing files of all the immigrants for the last 60 years," Chotai said, "and they're looking at any discrepancies in the files."

He was told he hadn't provided his "permanent resident" number to the embassy in Kenya, back when he moved here in 1970. He was told the call was being recorded, and anything he said could be used against him in court.

The "supervisor" said there were two ways to solve the problem. He could either send the RCMP to the door in 45 minutes, or Chotai could give them his "PR" number and pay a penalty.

"It felt a little bit scary," Chotai said. But he quickly realized it was a scam.

Edmonton police say several members of city's Indo-Canadian community, and other recent immigrants, have been targets of the same scam, which threatens people with deportation if they don't hand over thousands of dollars.

Police have received numerous reports about the scam, which appears to have started in April.

Like Chotai, complainants reported they have been called by people who claim to work with Canada Revenue Agency, Canadian Security Intelligence Service, Immigration Canada or the police.

The fraudulent callers tell people they have not filed their taxes properly, or have not registered as immigrants. The fraudsters then make threats about possible arrest warrants, jail time, loss of immigration status and deportation.

Chotai wasn't fooled, but he's worried the scammers could take information people mistakenly give them and use that to create false immigration papers, then sell them to people overseas.

"I could see the threat that was coming from the other end," he said. "The whole scam was quite well-prepared. I can see new immigrants getting scared of that. I suspect a lot of people would give out the money to these people."

'You are not alone'

Const. Pritpaul Bhui, a community liaison constable with the southeast police division, said the scammers have targeted several people in the immigrant community.

"If you suspect you have been a target of fraud or if you have already sent funds, you are not alone," said Bhui. "Many of the complainants are not familiar with Canadian law, and are afraid of deportation threats."

The scammers tell people to buy PayPower Visa prepaid cards or gift cards in various amounts. Police say gift cards have been purchased from retailers around Edmonton, including grocery stores and gas stations.

The victims are then told to provide the information from the back of the gift cards to the fraudsters over the phone.

"Retailers selling gift cards should also be aware of these types of scams," said Const. Bhui. "In one incident, a retailer informed the complainant they were being scammed and advised them to report the occurrence to police."

Police say people who are suspicious about a call from a federal agency should ask for more details and call the agency back to confirm the request is genuine. They can also call police to advise them of the potential fraud.

Those who have already sent in funds or have been contacted by a suspicious person should contact Edmonton police at 780-423-4567 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477.

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