Are You the Target of a Scam?
Definition of scam:
noun: a clever and dishonest way to make money;
verb: to trick in order to get money dishonestly
Oxford ESL Dictionary
Every year, thousands of new immigrants waste their precious money by getting caught in scams. Some scams are aimed at old people. Some are aimed at students who, like newcomers, are eager to get a job or find a place to live. New immigrants are often the target of scams because you do not yet know all the rules about living in Canada. You need to know what is legal, what is not legal and ways you can protect yourself from dishonest practices.
One thing that makes it difficult to tell honest from dishonest businesses is advertising. The fact that a company is advertising in a respected media outlet is no guarantee that the advertiser is honest or legitimate.
Almost everyone has been scammed at some time in their life. We all have stories, and if we share those stories, it is less likely that we will fall for the same tricks.
If you do not know anyone in Canada, (read “Making New Friends” on page 18) then do your best to meet and talk to people.
The best way to avoid falling for a scam is to learn from the experiences of others. And if you have been a victim, you can help stop the dishonest practices by sharing your stories.
Real Life Stories
When you pay to learn a trade, most private training companies and educational institutions will ask you to pay the fees before you have actually taken the course.The majority of them are honest and will give you the training you paid for. But some have found ways to “cheat” you out of your money while not actually doing anything illegal.
Fatmir, a professional engineer from Albania was forced to look for a survival job. He went to a training company for a course in operating a fork lift. The course was advertised at $99. The company managed to convince Fatmir to pay $250. Once the training company received his fee they informed Fatmir that the payment covered only a single one and one half hour “tutorial”. It depended upon his ability “to learn it or not” within that time. In the end, the only things Fatmir learned for his $250 had nothing to do with driving a forklift.
What did Fatmir learn?
To ask for a course description in writing before paying or signing anything. If you have a piece of paper that says the course is 10 hours long and they only give you and hour and a half, you stand a much better chance of getting your money back.
To get a receipt for his payment. If a company refuses or is unable to give you a receipt at the time you make the payment, do not risk paying the money. It may cost more for training from a more well-established company but, the larger the company, the better the service they are forced to provide in order to protect their reputation.
John Chow had a similar experience. He was offered a security job on the condition that he take a $200 security course. The training company took his money and he attended the course. But upon completing the course, he was informed that he was too old for the job being offered. Even if John had a receipt and a signed piece of paper saying he would be hired upon “satisfactory” completion of a course, the security company could simply say he failed the course. So for his $200, John learned never to pay a fee on the promise of getting a job.
Many scams could be avoided simply by insisting upon a receipt. Most companies who are trying to scam you will do everything they can to avoid giving you a receipt. There are no excuses – always get a receipt on the spot when you make a payment.
Shortly after moving to Canada, Mani Brah and her family moved to Brampton and lived in a rental basement. Mani says, “The first month we paid the rent by cheque. The next month, our landlord requested us to pay in cash because they had money problems. They badly needed money because the bank held their cheques for two days. My younger brother advised us not to pay him in cash but we convinced him that our landlord had problems and needed our help. When we gave him the cash, we asked him about a receipt. He said he would give it to us later. After three months he sent us a court notice. In court, he said we didn’t pay him three months rent. He won the case because we didn’t have any proof that we paid it. The judge ordered us to pay three month’s rent. We paid him $2,550 again.” All Mani and her parents got for their money was a expensive lesson to never pay in cash and if you do, always get a receipt when you pay the money.
Ahmed is a tailor who rented space in a small mall. The fact that his landlord was a countryman and spoke Farsi helped make Ahmed trust him. But, like Mani and her family, Ahmed did not get receipts for his rent and his landlord took him to court. He too ended up paying double for his rent. Ahmed learned that even people from your own country may cheat you.
Constable Doug Ord of the Community Relations Division of the Toronto Police Department says that this is a real problem in many ethnic communities. The tradition in many countries – especially those where the authorities are corrupt or untrustworthy – is for townspeople and villagers to help one another. This, in itself is a very good thing, because you’re more likely to be actively involved in community activities. But if you grew up trusting your neighbours more than the police or the government, that tendency can make you an easier target during your first several years in Canada because you cannot know your neighbours here as well as you did in the town where you grew up. A dishonest person may have a bad reputation, but your community is so spread out and there are so many people coming and going that you may never hear about the dishonest things they’ve done. So while it is easier to make friends with people who share your language, religion and customs, it’s not a good idea to trust someone just because they speak your language or moved here from a town near yours.
Advice from friends, web sites, magazine articles and law enforcement agencies can warn you of the dangers and the police may be able to help if you are the victim of a crime but no one can protect you. You must protect yourself by recognizing when someone might not be telling you the truth. If it were as easy to become rich as some people may try to convince you it is, then all of us would be rich. Remember the old pearls of wisdom, “If something sounds too good to be true, it is probably is.” and “Get it in writing.” Be careful, be sensible and be happy.
*All the stories above are true, but some of the names have been changed
The Scam That Touches Us All
The word “scam” is usually used to describe “dishonest” practices. But “bad service” can cost you just as much time, money and frustration as a criminal who sets out to cheat you. Bad service sometimes involves dishonesty, but more often it is simply the result of poorly made products or service from people who lack the skill to do a good job. An auto repair shop that does a poor job fixing your car can actually make the problem worse and cost you thousands of dollars. An immigration consultant can charge you extra for speeding up the process but, as Citizenship and Immigration Canada explains on their website, www.cic.gc.ca/english/department/consultants/index.html, CIC is not associated with any representatives and no one can get fast-tracked or actually speed up or guarantee the success of your application. A phone card may not give you full value for the card and when you phone to complain, you may discover their customer service is too busy or not available or they simply explain that the price difference is due to rising rates.
These things can and do happen to many people. This does not mean that all car repair shops, immigration consultants and phone cards are rip-offs. It just means you should do everything you can to find the good ones. You should always ask as many questions as you can. Ask to see things on paper. Ask for references from satisfied customers of the company you’re dealing with. If you buy a car or major appliance or need a major repair, make sure you get a warranty (a piece of paper that promises to fix something for free if it breaks). Before going to a business you’ve never dealt with before, ask your friends or neighbours where they go. If they have used a repair shop or an immigration service or a phone card that they are happy with, they will probably be glad to tell you about it. When you talk to an immigration consultant, do not be afraid to ask the representative for references and proof of membership in the Canadian Society of Immigration Consultants, a Canadian law society or the Chambre des notaires du Québec.
If several friends say they have all had good experiences with a certain phone card, it will probably be a good product. And in the same way, if you are scammed or you receive bad service, tell as many people as you can – make sure that none of those friends have the same bad experience that you had. And if you’ve been scammed, complain everywhere you can. Your employment resource centre may not be able to help you get your money back, but they probably won’t refer new clients to bad businesses.
You can complain to the Competition Bureau of Canada about any business or marketing practices you feel are misleading or dishonest at www.competitionbureau.gc.ca. It is an independent law enforcement agency responsible for enforcement of a number of government acts aimed at helping consumers. Its role is to promote and maintain fair competition so that all Canadians can benefit from competitive prices, product choice and quality services. E-mail them at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone them toll-free at 1-800-348-5358. They can direct you to the your nearest regional office.