A family of Syrian refugees in Saint John has been swindled out of $400 in a phone scam purporting to offer English lessons.

phone scam

An Arabic-speaking fraudster convinced a Syrian family to give out banking information over the phone (CBC)

An Arabic-speaking caller contacted the family on Monday night, claiming to sell English as a second language DVDs to help teach their children.

All the family had to do was provide a few banking details for payment, the fraudster said.

By the time the family's interpreter heard about the incident and had the family's chequeing account frozen, hundreds of dollars had disappeared.

The head of the YMCA of Greater Saint John, which is assisting the family in question and other refugees, was shocked a phone scam would target newcomers.

"It's always disappointing because they're so happy to be here in Saint John and in Canada," said president and CEO Shilo Boucher.

The YMCA is now distributing a flyer in Arabic, warning other refugees about the dangers of giving out personal information over the phone, in hopes of sparing them from the same fate.

Shilo Boucher, president and CEO, YMCA of Greater Saint John

Shilo Boucher, president and CEO of the YMCA of Greater Saint John, described the scam targeting Syrian refugees as 'disappointing.' (CBC)

Welcome Team Lead Rhonda Kelley, with the Y's Newcomer Connection, has also sent an email to volunteers advising them of the scam.

The fraudster used a "very friendly and soft approach," and said they were calling from the United States, Kelley stated in the email.

Luckily, the majority of the targeted family's money was in a savings account, which was untouched, she said.

Weekly info sessions set to start

"Can you please talk to your families about not sharing their personal information with anyone over the phone, no matter what people say?" wrote Kelley.

"They could be threatened with deportation aggressively or have a friendly call looking for helping them. Regardless of the approach, never give out any personal info, especially their bank info."

To help prevent any further problems, a community outlook officer will begin providing weekly information sessions for Syrian families at the Y, starting next week.

The lessons will include tips to avoid getting scammed over the phone, or elsewhere.

Saint John police are aware of the case and say it serves as a good reminder to everyone — new to Canada or not, said Sgt. Lori Magee.

"We would encourage anyone, along with Syrian families, that they do not provide any personal information over the phone — banking information, credit card information, anything of that nature."