As you start your journey as an international student in Canada, it may take a while to understand how Canadian organizations and government agencies work and contact residents. Scammers and fraudsters often target international students who are still adjusting to their newfound independence and may be unaware of the dangers of fraud.
While Canada is a relatively safe country and the chances of you falling victim to a scam are low, it’s good to proactively learn about and safeguard against scams. This article highlights some of the common types of scams targeting international students in Canada and provides tips on recognizing, avoiding, and reporting scams.
In this article:
- Scholarship scams
- Visa scams
- Ghostwriting scams
- Outstanding arrest warrant scams
- Accommodation scams
- Phishing or email scams
- Job scams
- Debit or credit card fraud
- Virtual kidnapping scams
- Reporting scams targeting international students in Canada
As an international student, you may come across scholarship scams when you’re applying for study programs in Canada or during your education. In such scams, the fraudsters may promise you a guaranteed scholarship if you pay an upfront “application fee”. However, once you pay the fee, they’ll just pocket the money and disappear. These “pay-for-scholarship” scams are typically circulated through social media platforms or messenger apps like WhatsApp.
How to avoid scholarship scams
If you receive an unsolicited scholarship offer you didn’t apply for, it may be a scam. Legitimate scholarships in Canada don’t require international students to pay any application fees.
Before applying for any scholarships, do your research to make sure that the organization and scholarship are credible. In Canada, scholarships are usually based on merit, so beware of any organization that offers a scholarship without first assessing your education credentials.
Read our articles on legitimate scholarship options available to international students and other ways to fund your education in Canada.
If you receive a phone call from someone claiming to be from Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) or Canada Border Services (CBSA) saying that your student visa or immigration status is in jeopardy, it could be a scam. The caller will typically tell you there’s something wrong with your study permit documents and that you’ll be arrested or deported unless you pay a fine.
Usually, you’ll be asked to transfer funds via an e-Transfer, money wire, or in the form of prepaid credit cards, gift cards, or Bitcoin. The caller may also pressure you to share personal information, such as your passport number, Social Insurance Number (SIN), credit card details, or bank account information.
How to avoid visa scams
IRCC and CBSA will never call and threaten you with deportation or arrest. No legitimate government agency will ask you to make wire transfers or payments in the form of Bitcoin or prepaid cards.
If you suspect you’ve received a scam call, ask the caller for their name and employee number or hang up. Then wait ten minutes, and call the department’s official phone number to verify the authenticity of the call. Be sure to report any fraudulent calls you receive to the Canadian Anti-fraud Centre.
International students enrolled in Canadian universities are particularly susceptible to ghostwriting scams. You may come across fake websites or be approached by fraudulent third parties that offer to write your assignments or essays for a fee. Once you’ve made the payment, the scammer will disappear without completing your assignment or send you a plagiarized document.
How to avoid ghostwriting scams
Ghostwriting scams will often promise unrealistically short delivery times or guarantee a good grade. While there may be times when you’re overwhelmed by classwork and assignments, don’t be tempted to outsource your academic work.
In Canada, plagiarising, getting assistance, or getting someone else to complete assignments you’re supposed to do on your own is considered cheating. Cheating is taken extremely seriously, and has serious penalties––you could receive a failing grade or even be expelled from your college or university.
Outstanding arrest warrant scams
As an international student, you may receive a call from someone claiming to be from the Canadian police or CBSA stating that an arrest warrant has been issued against you either in Canada or in your home country. The caller may threaten you and claim you’ll be imprisoned or deported unless you pay a fine, usually by means of wire transfer, prepaid gift cards, or Bitcoin.
In some cases, fake “officials” may try to pressure you into paying immediately by claiming that your family back home will be harmed or imprisoned if you don’t follow their instructions.
How to avoid arrest warrant scams
Government agency officials will never use aggressive language or threaten you with arrest or deportation over the phone. Nor will they ask you to make payments through wire transfer, prepaid gift cards, cryptocurrency exchanges, or PayPal. If you’ve received such a call, it’s likely a scam. Contact your regional police department to verify the call and avoid sharing any personal information.
If you’re planning to live off-campus during your study program in Canada, beware of accommodation scams. You may come across an attractive rental listing at a price that’s lower than average market pricing. The supposed “landlord” will ask for an upfront deposit even before you meet them or visit the property. Scammers often use property images from other online listings to create fake advertisements for rental properties that don’t exist on websites like Facebook, Kijiji, and Craigslist.
Alternatively, the person claiming to be the landlord may have rented the house on a short-term basis, and have no authority to rent it to you. Once you’ve paid the deposit, the “landlord” will disappear and the listing will be removed.
How to avoid accommodation scams
If a listing seems too good to be true, it’s probably a scam. In some cases, the scammer may force you to pay a deposit immediately by claiming that they have other interested parties. Another red flag could be if the “landlord” asks for a deposit payment through wire transfer, gift cards, or PayPal or makes excuses to avoid showing you the property. While renting a property, be sure to always meet the landlord, inspect the house, and sign a lease agreement before paying a deposit.
Check out our article for a comprehensive list of questions to ask your landlord or realtor before you rent.
Phishing or email scams
In a phishing scam, a scammer tries to get access to personal information such as passwords, credit card numbers, bank account details, or SIN. As an international student in Canada, you may receive phishing emails or text messages asking you to click on links, share personal information, or download files.
Phishing emails may claim that you’re entitled to a tax refund, gift card, or prize, that you need to update your financial information for a subscription, or that there’s been suspicious activity on your account and you need to validate some information. When you click on the link, you’ll be prompted to share personal information.
Attached files in such emails may be software or viruses that can share your personal information with the scammer without your knowledge or consent. Any personal information that you share may be used against you in further scam attempts, making them more realistic and harder to detect.
How to avoid phishing scams
Phishing emails can be tricky to identify as they’re often made to look like they’re from a legitimate source. Always check the email address to see if the domain matches that of the organization the email is supposedly from. Some common red flags to keep in mind include bad grammar, offers that are too good to be true, and senders you don’t recognize.
If you suspect that you’ve received a phishing email, don’t click on any links, download any files, or share sensitive information. Instead, call the organization’s official phone number to verify whether the email is authentic.
When you start to apply for student jobs or full-time jobs after your graduation in Canada, you may come across employment-related scams. Scammers often send international students fake job offers asking for an upfront deposit before their supposed start date. In these fake job offer emails, fraudsters sometimes include phishing links or “forms” where the student needs to share detailed personal information for their references, making them susceptible to fraud as well.
In some cases, you may be contacted by someone who claims to be from a recruitment agency and promises you guaranteed employment. They’ll ask you to pay a “fee” for the services provided by the recruitment agency or for mandatory training courses to increase your employability in Canada.
How to avoid job scams
Legitimate hiring organizations will first assess candidates based on their resume and cover letter and then interview shortlisted applicants. As a rule of thumb, be wary of any job offers you receive from companies you haven’t applied to or interviewed with. Moreover, no credible organization will ask new employees for money for any reason. While many employers may ask you to provide contact details (phone number and email addresses) of your references, a legitimate employer will have no reason to seek additional personal information about them.
In Canada, recruitment agencies are paid by the employer, not the employee, so if an agency asks you to pay a fee, it’s likely a scam. Employment agencies cannot guarantee jobs or force you to undergo training. Be sure to research the agency and ask for references before you sign up with them.
Download the Arrive Career Guide for tips and guidance on resume building, networking, preparing for interviews, and landing your first job in Canada.
Debit or credit card fraud
Debit or credit card fraud occurs when a scammer steals your debit or credit card or card information. This can be done by accessing your physical card, stealing your bank statements, hacking into company databases that have your financial information, or by tricking you into sharing your credit card information through a fake payment website. The scammer then uses your card to make purchases or withdraw funds from your account.
How to avoid debit or credit card fraud
Never leave your debit or credit card unattended, and never share your card number or PIN with anyone. Destroy and properly dispose of all paper statements from your bank. While making purchases online, always verify the authenticity of the website before entering your credit card details.
If your debit or credit card is lost or stolen, report it to your financial institution immediately and get your card blocked. It’s also a good practice to review your credit card statements every month to make sure there are no fraudulent charges.
Read our article for tips on identifying and safeguarding yourself against financial fraud.
Virtual kidnapping scams
As an international student, you may receive a call from an individual pretending to be from your home country’s embassy or consulate, or from the police or Interpol. The caller may claim that your credit cards have been used in a criminal activity and ask you for personal information. They’ll then try to convince you to send them money, cut off communication with your family and friends, and go into hiding to avoid getting involved in the criminal case.
The scammers may also contact your family claiming that they’ve kidnapped you and ask for ransom money. In some cases, the fraudsters blackmail students to provide fake “hostage” videos of themselves and use those to intimidate their family members.
How to avoid virtual kidnapping scams
Canadian government agencies will never threaten you or call you to ask for money. You can protect yourself from such scams by keeping an eye on your credit card and bank statements for any fraudulent charges. Government agencies will also never ask for personal information on the phone, although they may ask you to verify the information they already have.
In case you receive such a call, don’t share any personal information or make any payments. Instead, call your local police office to verify the claim and report fraudulent calls through the proper channel. Also, let your friends and family back home know that you’ve received such a scam call so they can be on their guard.
How to report scams targeting international students in Canada
While scams are fairly common in Canada, law enforcement officials estimate that only 5 per cent of all fraudulent activity is reported. Reporting fraud can help law enforcement agencies identify scammers and take action against them, protecting you and other Canadians in the long run.
If you or someone you know has been the target of a scam or fraud, contact the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre through their website or call 1-888-495-8501. You should also contact your local Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) or provincial police force as soon as possible, so they can investigate the scam. In case you’ve mistakenly shared your financial information, lost your credit or debit card, or suspect that your credit card has been misused, you should also put an alert on your credit report and contact your bank to understand if you need to cancel your credit cards.
Scams are an unfortunate reality in today’s world. As an international student in Canada, you may be especially vulnerable to scams. One of the most important ways to protect yourself against scams is to be aware of the various ways in which scammers can target you. Always stay vigilant and do not share your personal information or make payments to anyone without conducting your due diligence.