Unsure if a website is a legitimate immigration consultant or a scammer looking for its next victim?
Immigration or citizenship services are offered by third-party agencies who provide consulting and advice to people who wish to immigrate to Canada or other countries. They tell you if your skills and experience is in demand, what documents to prepare and when to submit them.
Basically you are hiring them for their knowledge to expedite your application. It is possible to lodge your application yourself, but it requires enough knowledge of the immigration system, often accomplished by diligence and research.
But if you don’t have enough time, you can hire the services of an immigration consultant. There are those who are authorized and accredited by governments, but there are also those who make false claims and offer false promises.
Although a website of an agency may not tell the entire story and should not be used as only basis to judge an agency as legitimate or fraudulent, there are tell-tale signs that it’s fake or a scam:
Charges fees for forms you’ll fill out
They charge — no matter how minimal – – for forms that are normally available for download at no cost at official websites of IRCC.
Some employment agencies double as immigration consultants. They have a list of job offers purportedly coming from Canadian employers and invite jobseekers to apply. Being a licensed employment agency does not automatically grant one rights to provide advice to customers as immigration consultants.
Offers travel advice
They use Canadian cities as travel destinations and talks more about attractions and tourist visa application rather than immigrant document requirements nor pathway to citizenship. While travel agents are a perfectly legal profession, don’t be mislead by those who pretend to be immigration consultant but can only offer you advice as short-term visitors.
Pretends to be a government agency
Some fake immigration consultants behave and speak like they are the government: they remind applicants of missed payments or extra steps they failed to accomplish. This conversation may soon lead to demand for payment.
Communication comes from a generic email address
Scammers have become so sophisticated that they use professional-sounding company names and email domains but there are those who still use Hotmail, Gmail or Yahoo! addresses — perhaps to save costs and more convenient to setup.
Although users of generic emails should not be automatically associated with scam, use of such type of email addresses are perceived to be less professional and therefore less trustworthy, a step closer to that of a fraudster.
Unreachable contact details
A company may have a professional looking website complete with details, including promises of money-back guarantee, glowing testimonials and high ratings on review websites.
However, when you check their contact details, none of the options seem to work. Their Canadian address might not exist at all, email address does not respond to your inquiry and the number placed is unreachable.
Other tell-tale signs you could be dealing with a scam artist pretending to be an immigration consultant. Targeting those who are in the midst of their Canadian visa application, scammers make unsolicited call as an federal employee of IRCC telling the applicants they have failed to comply with certain steps or forgot to submit certain requirements and need to pay a certain amount for an arbitrary fee such as application surcharge or management fee.
Be aware of the following when engaging in a call with a supposed government employee asking about your immigration application update.
- IRCC will not telephone applicant to collect or follow up about money or payments. The only time the government will contact applicants by telephone to get more information from them to continue processing an application, or to ask for more documents. Not about payments.
- As applicants have already submitted their personal information through the application form, IRCC will not ask them to confirm such information in a call. Be careful not to disclose personal information such as date of birth, passport number or mother’s maiden name as this can be used to steal identity, also known as identity theft. Armed with such info, scammers could impersonate you on other transactions such as bank withdrawals, or steal login information on your online banking account.
The name of consultant or company he or she is claiming to represent is not listed in the authorized list by the Canadian government. Although non-authorized agents may still provide service and get their lodged applications succeed, applicants should exercise due diligence about their background.
Scammer sends email about the supposed discrepancy of the application put forward. Content of the purported immigration email appears genuine (with reference numbers, logos and grammar impeccably written). But examine content carefully as governing bodies such as the Ontario Immigrant Nominee Program has warned of the following:
- Certificate of Nomination will not be emailed by the OINP
- Contact phone number should have a corresponding area code identified with a Canadian province
- Name of immigration agency may not match the current one. For example, the letter may refer to Citizenship and Immigration Canada as the immigration authority and not the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.
- Scammer may ask applicants to pay through a wire service such as Western Union and not through the official payment gateway.
As an applicant hoping to succeed in immigrating to Canada, what else can you do to protect yourself from scammers?
- Do a Web search to see if anyone has reported any problems with an agent or consultancy company. Look up on reviews and get other people’s opinion.
- Verify information provided in the website, social media post and other content before formally entrusting your application to them. You can do so by calling them and ask a few questions. If their promises are too good to be true, then you should know what to do: avoid them.
- Never disclose your personal information to anyone you don’t know, especially if you haven’t met them yet.
- If you choose to pay for a service, understand what you will receive for your money before you accept or sign anything. Get proof of transaction such as receipts.
- When filling out a form as expression of interest, with expectation of getting someone to respond to you, make sure you are accessing a secured website before sharing your private information (name, date of birth, passport number, etc). If website’s address is not displayed on Internet browser has HTTPS or a padlock symbol, don’t proceed.