© Daily Herald staff
A Prince Albert woman is $3,240 poorer after being swept up in a telephone scam.
Rukshana Ali, a single mother of four who emigrated from Pakistan to Canada, received a phone call on Wednesday afternoon.
Within hours, she was a victim.
“I get scared when somebody says they’re calling from the police station,” Ali says. “I’m a Canadian citizen but I’m not that strong. I think maybe I don’t understand; my language isn’t that good.
“Maybe I did something wrong. And you know what, you feel guilty when you’re not guilty. Inside your heart you know and you think this is an honest country, nothing bad will happen.”
When Ali first answered the phone, a harsh-sounding woman told her that there was a warrant against her name for not paying taxes to the Canadian Revenue Agency (CRA).
Although Ali was sure that she had paid her taxes, she didn’t hang up. Instead she asked for details that the scammers refused to provide.
The woman handed the phone to a man who told Ali that she had three charges against her, which are listed below exactly as she wrote them down;
• Violation of Canadian banking regulations.
• Breach contract CRA.
• Providing misleading information authoritive.
“He said there is a very serious issue,” she recalls.
When she protested, the man again said he couldn’t give her more details.
“(He said) if you want to keep yourself out of debt, you have to pay $1,490 right away and you cannot pay directly to CRA. Specifically they told me that I have to go to the bank and buy Visa gift cards.”
She bought the cards and gave them the numbers.
But it wasn’t over yet.
“Then he said I have to pay $1,750 to the RCMP because there are attorneys involved and police involved and this involved and that involved. I said ‘But this is too much. I don’t have that much.’ (He said) you have to raise it somehow. So I went to other banks and withdrew money and went back to the bank and bought more cards.”
The scammers then told her they would call her with an information number. When she didn’t receive the call within an hour, she contacted a friend who broke the news to her that she had been cheated.
Her friend called the police, who told her that it was in fact an international scam.
Ali went to the Prince Albert Police Service on Thursday morning and gave a statement but there was little that local police could do.
She then called the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, where she heard a message talking about the revenue scam.
Cpl. Louis Robertson, who heads up the RCMP’s Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, said scammers do focus on ethnic communities.
“Sometimes they will target specific groups,” he says. “Right now we’re seeing foreign groups. They probably knew that she was an immigrant. It’s sad but we’re seeing this in almost every foreign community.”
He said, for instance, that variations on the same scam have been going on for decades in the Chinese community in Toronto. Complicating matters is that some immigrants have come from places where they don’t trust the police so they are reluctant to share their misfortune with Canadian authorities.
As a result, some become repeated victims.
“You have to be alert, you have to be knowledgeable to recognize scams like that. If you’re a new immigrant, it’s hard. It’s really, really hard.”
One of the reasons that scammers target the immigrant population, Robertson says, is that Canadian seniors have become more aware of the crooks preying upon them.
That makes newcomers to Canada easier targets.
“When you have an immigrant coming to Canada, the grandparent scam doesn’t mean anything to them and the lottery scam doesn’t ring any bells,” Robertson says. “Now we have to go back into those communities and try to make the same pitch as we were doing many, many years ago to seniors’ groups.
“It’s back to square one.”
While Ali acknowledges that she made a mistake, she wishes that the Canadian Revenue Agency had done a better job warning people that this activity was going on.
“If CRA knows this is going on, they should take very serious attention and let us know when we sign the paper to be aware of these kind of scams,” Ali says. “I’m not the only one. Look at me. I’m not very clever and sharp. I just got scared because I only came to this country 10 years ago.”
She says her husband usually handled the finances before he left the family three years ago.
The scammers had somehow found personal information about her, which made the scam more believable. She now wonders if it’s related to a call she had a month ago when she did what she was told was a confidential survey.
For Robertson, it’s a sad story that he’s heard many times.
He counsels immigrants to speak to police if they are uncertain about whether something is a scam.
“My personal advice is if you’re not sure about something, go see your local police,” he says. “The local police in Canada are trustworthy; they will definitely assist you and answer all of your questions. Never, never, never send money to somebody that you don’t know …
“It’s the same advice that we were giving to seniors 20 years ago.”
For her part, Ali says she came forward to warn others that Prince Albert residents are being targeted. Her advice is similar to that of Robertson.
“I got trapped and I don’t want them to trap other people like me. I want you to spread these words to everyone,” Ali said. “Be aware. If anybody calls, talking about violations and criminals and this and that, don’t be scared. They are not true people; they are just a scam.”