Protecting against immigration fraud as an international student in Canada
International students in Canada are often seen as easy targets for fraudsters looking to, literally, “cash in” on vulnerable victims.
This is because scammers know that they will do anything to achieve their goals of studying in Canada.
As Fraud Prevention Month winds down for 2023, it's a good time for international students to study some methods of protecting themselves against common scams and maintaining their legal status in Canada.
Canadian international student fraud
Many international students across Canada are victimized by fraud through websites, email, phone calls, and social media. For instance, earlier this month, it was reported that a significant number of international students from India may now be deported after receiving fake post-secondary admissions letters. The students, some of whom have now acquired legal representation, have since filed for a judicial review with the federal court to contest the removal order.
Note: Some news outlets are reporting that as many as 700 students are implicated in this controversy
Instances such as these further emphasize the importance of protecting against fraud as an international student in Canada. Scams can have severe financial, social and emotional consequences.
Four common types of immigration fraud targeting international students
Ghost consultants are unlicensed immigration representatives who offer services to international students (among others) in exchange for a fee and then cease all communication with the victim once money has changed hands.
International students are often the target of phishing scams, particularly early in their immigration journey before they become familiar with Canadian laws. In these scams, fraudsters will communicate with potential victims (often by email or text) to acquire sensitive personal information which can be used to defraud victims of money and other valuables.
According to a February 2023 report by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), “the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre received fraud and cybercrime reports totalling a staggering $530 million in victim losses” last year. According to the RCMP, phishing scams ranked in the “top three most reported types of fraud” in Canada throughout 2022.
Fake job offers
International students are commonly victimized by fake job offers because, similar to how they will do anything to further their education in Canada, international students will typically act with the same ambition when attempting to find work.
This is especially true of international students who desire to eventually become permanent residents in Canada, as Canadian work experience is either a requirement or an invaluable benefit for many Canadian immigration streams.
Note: An example of where Canadian work experience will benefit permanent residence applicants is Express Entry. Programs managed under the Express Entry system reward candidates with extra Comprehensive Ranking System (CRS) points if they have Canadian work experience. These additional points will increase a candidate’s chances of receiving an Invitation to Apply (ITA) for Canadian permanent residence during an Express Entry draw.
Click here to learn more about how to spot a fake Canadian job offer.
Another big component of long-term success for international students involves finding affordable and comfortable accommodations. Therefore, scammers are prone to preying on desperate international students by promising them housing, only to disappear with thousands of dollars in defrauded money.
A recent example of this comes from the University of Waterloo. In August 2022, it was reported that a Ph.D. student at the university “was stripped of her savings and is fighting poor mental health after falling victim to a rental scam.”
Responding to an ad through Facebook, the student paid $2000 to a woman claiming to be a tenant and was left with nothing but a fake key to an apartment unit she was told would work on move-in day.
Read More: Fraud Prevention Month 2023
How to spot and avoid immigration fraud
1. Verify the legitimacy of employers and immigration representatives
There are several ways to verify that an employer is legitimate. If an employer’s “website” is missing contact information, this can be a red flag that they are illegitimate.
Likewise, international students can simply verify that an immigration representative, such as a lawyer, is authorized to practice in their province/territory by checking if they are a member of a Canadian provincial or territorial law society, or the Chambre des notaires du Québec.
2. Be wary of unsolicited emails, phone calls, social media posts/messages
Email/phone scammers often pretend to be representatives of institutions like a bank or even Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC). Those who receive incoming calls from people claiming to represent such institutions should hang up and call back to ensure that they are speaking with legitimate representatives of a given organization.
It is similarly essential to exercise caution when dealing with social media messages or posts, particularly those from unknown or unverified sources. Scammers often impersonate immigration service providers or government agencies on social media platforms to defraud unsuspecting individuals. Always check the legitimacy of the account and the information provided before sharing any personal information or making any payments.
3. “Too good to be true”
If something seems “too good to be true” (ex. any “guarantee” or a promise of expedited processing), it is usually safe to assume that the offer is illegitimate.
Maintaining a valid study permit and legal status in Canada
Part of the effort to stay vigilant against fraud involves being sure that one can maintain a valid study permit and uphold their legal status in Canada.
To do this, international students should take care to avoid illegal employment and ensure compliance with the conditions of their study permit. For example, international students must be enrolled full-time at a Canadian designated learning institution (DLI) to work in Canada. Likewise, to hold a study permit, Canadian international students must prove that they are “actively pursuing” their studies (unless exempt).
See More: Government of Canada resources on Studying and Working in Canada as an International Student and Study Permit Holder Conditions in Canada
To maintain legal status in Canada, international students must also report changes in personal circumstances to the relevant government authorities. If, for example, a student’s study situation (program, institution of study) or work arrangement changes, they are required to immediately inform the proper governing body.
Help with maintaining legal status and reporting changes in circumstance
International students who require help with reporting changes in their personal circumstances or face challenges with upholding their legal status may benefit from the services of a certified Canadian immigration lawyer.
An experienced Canadian immigration lawyer can:
- Help international students fully and accurately complete applications
- Communicate with the Canadian government on behalf of the applicant
- Ensure applicants avoid crucial mistakes during the immigration process