Phone scammers target newcomers to Canada, pretending to be immigration officials

A Toronto woman almost became the victim of an elaborate scam targeting newcomers to the country after she received a phone from someone purporting to be from Citizenship and Immigration Canada demanding payment for a fine of $2,500. She's worried Syrian refugees could also be targets.

Georgina Perez is worried fraudsters will focus on Syrian refugees as they arrive

Georgina Perez almost became the victim of a phone scam, which targets newcomers to Canada. (CBC News)

A Toronto woman almost became the victim of an elaborate scam targeting newcomers after she received a phone call Thursday from someone purporting to be from Citizenship and Immigration Canada demanding payment of a $2,500 fine.

Georgina Perez told CBC News the caller said she had failed to file some paperwork with the Mexican consulate and that she had to pay a penalty. 

"This guy kept saying, 'You have to make a decision, you have to make a decision,'" she said. "For the first 40 minutes I thought it was legit and I was scared."

If she didn't pay the fine immediately, Perez said the caller told her she would have to go court and potentially face deportation.

The Toronto woman was completely confused by the call, having lived in Canada since 2002.

Perez checked the call display screen and saw that it identified the caller as Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC). The caller gave her his badge number and offered to let Perez talk to a supervisor, she said.

Targeting immigrants

While this was happening, Perez used her cellphone to call CIC and was told that all her paperwork was in order.

The department has issued several public service alerts this year telling new immigrants to be wary of these types of calls.

Toronto Police said they receive complaints every day about similar scams, usually involving a fraudster posing as a government employee. The calls carry a false sense of authority and are specifically targeting immigrants, Const. Victor Kwong said.

"These groups will actually go through Canada411 or phone books looking for ethnic last names on the off chance that when they call [someone] they actually are in the immigration system," he said.

Concern for refugees

But staff at CIC would never accept fine payments over the phone by pre-paid credit cards or private money transfers, a spokesman told CBC News.

Perez said she wanted people to know about the scam, especially given the influx of Syrian refugees arriving now and in the coming weeks.

"If there was somebody who doesn't understand English very well or someone who's been here for less time, for sure if they were close to a deportation they will do anything."

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