A new phone fraud is targeting new Canadians with threats of deportation unless they hand over money to callers posing as immigration lawyers.
The elaborate scam aims to make victims believe they are guilty of immigration fraud and could be expelled from the country if they don't quickly pay a lawyer to rectify their files.
Montrealer Siddharth Kashyap received such a call last week. A software programmer who initially came to Canada as a student, Kashyap officially emigrated from India in 2001 and became a Canadian citizen in 2006.
He was told he was being charged with immigration fraud because he failed to fill out a FCN, or Foreign Citizenship Number form.
His initial concern escalated to panic as he spoke with a man claiming to be a lawyer with the Supreme Court of Canada who would assist him at a court date slated for five days later.
"They made me believe really I'm an illegal immigrant," he said. "He knew I was not a born citizen, that I immigrated to Canada, which is why they targeted me . . . I don't know how they managed, if it was just a fluke, but they knew I was not a born citizen."
'Something is not right here'
Kashyap was told his court date was already scheduled in Ottawa and he had to travel to India and get a document filled out, pay the Canadian lawyer, or face a fraud conviction and deportation.
He started asking about the penalty because going back to India so quickly wasn't feasible.
He was quoted a price of $2,175, to be wire transferred immediately to a lawyer at the Canadian consulate in India. Kashyap started to suspect things weren't adding up.
The caller claimed paperwork had been sent a month earlier by courier outlining everything the lawyer was explaining. Kashyap hadn't seen any such paperwork and didn't receive any notice by courier.
"Then I started whispering to my wife, 'something is not right here,'" he said.
He hung up the phone and quickly made some calls. On the first one, to the Supreme Court, he was informed that the court only heard appeals and wasn't sitting in September. The second call, to Citizenship and Immigration Canada, further confirmed his suspicions.
"They said first of all they're not aware of any [FCN] form. Nothing is wrong with my file, everything is in order," he said.
Kashyap called back the man who claimed he would represent him in court, who first denied anything was amiss but then seemed to admit to the scam before hanging up.
Different case, same story
A CBC producer called the number pretending to be someone who had received a call from the same immigration law office.
A woman claiming to be a lawyer told the producer that a fraud case had been filed against her again because the FCN form was missing, even though the name and file number provided were made up.
"That might lead you for deportation," the woman said. "You might be sent back to your own country and also seizing all your financial assets in Canada. That could include your banking and properties and you would also be blacklisted on your credit file."
When a CBC journalist called the number to speak with the man who presented himself to Kashyap as a Supreme Court lawyer, the man claimed there had been a mix-up.
He said that his office doesn't handle Canadian files and suggested someone may have been using their number.
He insisted no lawyers would have been in the office at the time the call was made by the CBC producer, but that all calls are recorded and those tapes would be reviewed.
'They touched a nerve. . . Suddenly it's like, 'Oh shoot, what the hell did I do? I was just living peacefully here.'' —Fraud target Siddharth Kashyap
The phone number is registered in Colorado, but the man claimed to be in New York. When pressed for an address, he refused to give one.
"There is no point of me discussing these things with you knowing that I don't have much information," he said.
"What I would advise you, rather than having this conversation and wasting your time and my time, you check with the clients. Talk to them and see what the situation is."
Kashyap reported his incident to Montreal police but was told that since he wasn't actually scammed out of any money, there wasn't much they could do.
"They touched a nerve," he said of the men he believes were trying to cash in on newcomers' limited knowledge of the Canadian system.
"When you immigrate, you go through all of these [hoops] and you're glad to be settled and everything and then somebody says, 'Well you're an illegal immigrant.' Suddenly it's like, 'Oh shoot, what the hell did I do? I was just peacefully living here.'"
Five more cases in Ontario
Daniel Williams, who is with the RCMP's Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, said when he heard about Kashyap's case last week, it was the first time he'd been notified of this apparent fraud.
Since then, there have been four more reports from Ontario.
"Sadly, we assume that we'll be getting many calls in the future from people who have actually been victimized because, with any scam, the first people who complain to us are the ones who spot it as a scam right off," he said.