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Language barriers often exploited by scammers to lure newcomers into revealing their personal, financial information

As long as there has been commerce, there have been scams. But as technology grows, so too do the methods by which we all can be bamboozled by bad actors looking to make a quick buck off our ignorance.

Between email scams, phone scams, pop-up adds, and scams peddled through text messages, there’s a lot of fraudulent behaviour we all need to be savvy about in order to protect our information and our pocketbooks. And while anyone can fall victim to this sort of chicanery, newcomers can face extra hurdles in the fight against scammers.

ISANS Offering Scam Avoidance Module

Earlier this spring, Erin MacLeod, an English as an Additonal Language (EAL) instructor with Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia (ISANS), taught a section on recognizing common scams as a month-long module, timed intentionally around tax season.

“We would like to think we’re smart enough to avoid that, but it’s not only our clients who become victims of these,” MacLeod says. “Scammers are really, really good [at this] — anybody can be a victim. I really want my clients to know that they’re not the only ones who are victims of these situations.”

Even so, newcomers to Nova Scotia often adopt English as a second language. As such, they may lack the vocabulary many Nova Scotia residents are familiar with in recognizing fraudulent behaviour online or over the phone. The course, first taught through ISANS this spring, was designed to give EAL clients that vocabulary.

“It’s not just vocabulary and all that, but also teaching them how things work,” MacLeod says, noting clients may also lack the cultural awareness to know the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) would never call and threaten someone over the phone to pay a late tax bill.

“When scammers call, and they pretend to be someone from the government… generally about a problem to do with your account — you owe money, or they want to check your information. They’ll tell you there’s been a security breach and your information has been compromised, and they call to check on your personal information,” MacLeod says, pointing out that typically you’d get a letter or two from the CRA long before they tried to reach you by phone.

“The CRA will never just call you, and they don’t realize that.”

Common Scams

Other common scams include credit card scams, where scammers claim there’s been fraudulent activity on your card; job offer scams; scams pretending to be a younger relative in an emergency and in need of money right away; and scams claiming the recipient has won a prize. In all these cases, the main goal is to either gather your personal information or, even worse, your money.

Some scams can be tailored to newcomers as well, with the caller threatening their immigration status, or even bring up the spectre of deportation. According to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), while there have been a slew of new types of scams since the COVID-19 pandemic, there hasn’t been a particular rise in immigrant-related scams in that time.

Usually, scammers just press on whatever you give them to work with.

“When it comes to the scammers themselves, I think it’s just luck of the dial,” MacLeod says. “Scammers do that as well, especially for newcomers and immigrants, where there’s a language barrier. They prey on that.”

Vital Information for Newcomers

MacLeod is really glad to have been able to finally teach this module, as she believes it’s one that’s especially practical for many of her clients.

“It was probably one of my favourite things to teach. My clients also said it was probably one of the most useful units they had learned about, because they didn’t know about all the types of scams that were out there.”

Hardly a week passed for Dania Wadouh after the end of the module before she wound up putting it to use.

“Before taking the course, I didn’t know about the scams,” Wadouh, originally from Syria, says. She admits to having fallen for some of these phishy calls in the past. “The course helped me many times. One time, my husband received a call and they asked him to give them information, like his name and his birthday and his bank account number. I told my husband, ‘Please stop. You don’t give any information to anyone you don’t know.’

“Another kind of scam, my friend received a call. She said she was from the government and wanted to help my friend find a job. My friend told her her name and her number and her birthday, and when I listened in, I told my friend to stop. ‘You don’t need to give any information, because the government doesn’t call you. If they want anything, the government sends mail.’”

Course Availability

MacLeod expects the module to be available as part of the EAL course around March or April in 2023, and each successive year, if she can help it. It’s too useful to her clients’ everyday lives to abandon, she says. In the meantime, she points out other resources exist online.

“There are lots of resources out there, in their language, or there are places they can contact to check out these things,” MacLeod says. “There’s one more resource that people can reference, it’s called The Little Black Book of Scams. It’s put out by the Canadian government. It details little blurbs — one-pagers — on at least a dozen different scams that are out there. They also have handy hints to protect yourself, what to do if you get scammed, and how to report a scam.

“It can happen to anybody,” MacLeod says. “Regardless of your age, regardless of your status in the community, regardless of if you’ve lived here your whole life or if you’re a newcomer. It’s so easy to fall victim. So it’s really important to just be aware.”

SIDEBAR – Tips to avoid being scammed

Below are some common tips to help you stay on top of scammers, as shared by Erin MacLeod.

  1. Never give out your personal information. The government, credit card companies, and banks are never going to call you to check on your information. They don’t need you to confirm your information.
  2. Never send money, unless you know it’s somebody you know and trust. The scammers’ main goal is to get money. Even if they get $100, that’s a win for them.
  3. Trust your instincts. Go with that voice that says, ‘It’s too good to be true.’
  4. Hang up and call back. If somebody is calling you from the credit card company and they want to verify your information, hang up and call the credit card company back using the phone number on your credit card statement or the back of your credit card. Same with the government, same with the Canada Revenue Agency.
  5. Make sure you have a My Account set up with the Canad Revenue Agency (CRA). The CRA will send you a letter first, letting you know there’s a problem, that you owe money, or you need to contact them. All of these letters are posted in your mail in your My Account.

6. Before you hit send and give information, always double- and triple-check. Nothing is so urgent that taking an extra two or three minutes to double-check the information is going to make or break the situation.

Chris Muise

Chris Muise is a Halifax-based freelance writer/editor, and long-time contributor for My Halifax Experience and My East Coast Experience.

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