An investigation by the Montreal Gazette this week revealed the existence of a network of ghost companies operating an elaborate immigration scam. Fraudsters use the prospect of living and working in Montreal, or in Canada, to attract skilled workers from the Middle East. To gain the confidence of often well-educated professionals, they engage in a subtle and elaborate scam to obtain funds to pay for the immigration process.

The scam is said to be complex because it involves a network of so-called recruitment agencies and immigration consulting firms, with individuals playing multiple roles from recruiters, employers, and immigration representatives located in different parts of the country.

Individuals who have been victims of the reported scams indicated that they were first contacted by employment recruiters seeking to hire someone to work in Canada, primarily in the construction industry. The procedure used is similar to a standard hiring process and involves conducting interviews and filling out human resources forms.

Once this first step is completed, candidates are referred to an immigration consultant, asked to complete additional documentation, and then asked to send money. Many immigrants who are eager to find employment and move to Canada have fallen for this well-orchestrated scheme.

How do fraudsters manage to be so convincing?
Mainly by providing detailed information and creating websites that aim to generate trust in their companies, displaying what looks like credible job offers and names of real people that are in fact stolen. The same is true of the immigration consultants assigned to them: their identities and credentials appear legitimate, but they have in fact been copied from those of real immigration consultants whose profiles are online.

In addition, they use and often refer to or claim to be associated with legitimate Canadian government agencies or companies. Everything is done by fraudsters to make people believe the information is true and to gain the trust of their potential victims.

Unfortunately, the phenomenon of immigration fraud is not new and similar fraud networks have been reported in the past. Canada’s immigration department has been issuing warnings about immigration fraud for many years and is spending millions to raise public awareness and put in place systems to better crackdown on fraudulent immigration representatives.

What can you do to protect yourself against immigration fraud?
Those who wish to come to Canada permanently or temporarily are encouraged to conduct background checks on the various representatives who provide services to them by asking the following questions:

Is this representative licensed to act as a representative?

With few exceptions, only Canadian lawyers and consultants with valid credentials and licenses are authorized to provide Canadian immigration advice in exchange for money. Each Canadian province has a directory of licensed lawyers which can be used to find and confirm credentials. There is also a national registry of immigration consultants that serves a similar purpose.

Am I actually speaking to my representative of choice?

Perform due diligence and make sure you are communicating with the actual representative before engaging their services, as some fraudulent individuals can impersonate authorized lawyers and consultants. Verify that you are speaking to the right person by taking steps such as visiting their official website, confirming their office location, and reaching out to them directly through officially recognized communication channels. Avoid communicating personal information with unknown individuals through social media – most lawyers and consultants will prefer discussing sensitive information via calls, emails, or in-person meetings.

What is the background of this representative?

After determining whether the prospective representative is authorized to represent or advise you if you are interested in hiring a representative you are encouraged to research that representative’s background and experience in the field. It is important to obtain more information, not only about their qualifications but also about the company they work for. Complex immigration matters are best handled by representatives who have the necessary experience, knowledge, and ability to carry out the work of obtaining your immigration documentation.

Is the job offer legitimate?

Some people posing as recruiters or immigration representatives may put forward what appear to be offers of employment in Canada. Individuals who receive a job offer and suspect that it may be fraudulent are encouraged to consult a third party, ask for proof, and carefully check websites and company information to ensure it is valid and real. If you suspect immigration fraud has taken place or may be taking place, consult this page from the Government of Canada on steps that may be taken to report the incident.