Scammers target international students
Savvy students warn each other of phone fraud
By Marilyn Reichert
This story has been updated to include comments from Dupinder Kaur Saran, Manpreet Kaur and Taran Preet.
About 10 per cent of international students are targeted by fraudsters, according to a Langara student coordinator. Scammers use phone calls, deceptive emails, and illicit offers of higher pay to work over the legal limit of hours.
Abdulla Ahmed, a first-year business management student, received such a call but has not been defrauded. He warns others to hang up if they are targeted.
“They call you on your phone and say they are from Canada service agency, and they sound super legit,” he said. “They say your social insurance number is expiring in five days or 10 days … ‘If you don’t go to one of our agents, you will be arrested by the RCMP and you’ll be deported’.”
Students who fall prey to scams can find themselves paying out large sums of money or compromising their personal information, which could create bad credit or put their student visas at risk.
Scammers drain a victim’s bank account
While studying at Vancouver Film School, Virender Singh received a call purportedly from the government. The caller said Singh was facing serious criminal charges and convinced him to empty his bank account and hand over the money.
Singh, now in his first-year in the Langara journalism program, said they used someone who spoke his language to disarm him.
“I blindly just trusted the person on the phone because they were Indian, so I felt a natural sense of familiarity,” said Singh, who is not involved in the Voice. “I fell into that trap because I was in a new country and I didn’t know how things worked here.”
Another common scam involves rental fraudsters who convince student visa holders to send a month’s rent in advance, then block contact after the money is sent.
Jagtar Singh Manak, a first-year computer science student, recently received a suspicious email in response to his ad on Facebook Marketplace looking for a place to rent.
“I knew right away it was a scam. They only wanted $750 for a flat to rent in downtown Vancouver,” Manak said. “The writer was very convincing, saying he was in England and the flat was empty because his daughter went overseas to study.”
Langara global office and One Voice Canada protect international students
Prerna Bedi, an international student coordinator with the Langara global office, estimates that one in 10 Langara international students have experienced threatening calls or received deceptive emails and text messages.
The global office, a resource centre for Langara international students, connects with students before arrival in Canada. They partner with the Bank of Montreal to host workshops on fraud awareness.
“I’ve come across very few students who have paid. Many of them know what the scams are and what they must do,” Bedi said. “What I have seen lately is that students are very proactive.”
Dupinder Kaur Saran, founder of One Voice Canada, a non-profit advocating for international students, said the number one threat that causes the most fear is deportation.
“We have been able to alleviate some of that fear and teach students to say ‘no’ because they too have rights in Canada,” she said.
Taran Preet, a second-year Langara business administration student, said she received an official sounding call soon after her arrival in Vancouver, her host family told her never to give out personal details over the phone because the government would never contact her that way.
“Students who are new in Canada and are alone … can get a terrific attack of ‘yeah, I have to tell my social insurance number,’” said Preet.
Another common scam involves deceptive employers trying to avoid paying taxes on salaries. The employer offers extra hours under the table but holds back cash salaries and threatens the student with deportation if they talk to anyone.
“We teach them to just work 20 hours for the minimum wage,” Saran said. “You’re not getting exploited, and you’re not going to have a chance of deportation either.”
Saran said One Voice Canada has helped resolve 1,200 cases of exploitation in the two years of the pandemic. Most of the cases were in B.C. and Ontario. One Voice Canada is a collection of about 250 volunteers from professional backgrounds who formed in 2019 to advocate for international students.
Manpreet Kaur trusted the landlord when he asked for a deposit and the first month’s rent. She sent him $1,200. But when the fraudster requested more money, she became suspicious.
“He tried to convince me ‘if you will give me $2,600 right now (for insurance), I will send you the paperwork, they will give you the cash back’,” said Kaur. “I was so confused.”
According to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, in 2021 there were 106,637 frauds reported by 67,724 victims and $75.5 million dollars have been lost to fraud.
Reporter Marilyn Reichert explores how scammers are preying on international students. Dupinder Kaur Saran, founder of One Voice Canada, a non-profit advocating for international students, gives insight on this issue.