Overseas fraud: An increasing threat to the safety of Canadians


Email fraud alert

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Common types of scams

Although most Canadians are now aware of fraud attempts carried out by companies or individuals in foreign countries, especially in Africa, many Canadians are still victimized and cheated out of merchandise, services and money. Nigeria, Ghana, Togo, Burkina Faso, the Ivory Coast, Morocco, Algeria, Guinea, Senegal and Benin are some of the countries where fraud is a popular and lucrative activity.

Common types of commercial or professional scams include

  • emails in which a foreign company requires you to send it a fee or merchandise in order to obtain a contract with its government
  • emails and calls offering to sell you merchandise such as crude oil or precious stones and making business proposals on the condition that you travel to the country in question
  • announcements offering to sell you exotic or domestic animals from foreign countries, with advance payment required 
  • emails promising to help you secure a visa or guaranteeing you a job abroad
  • emails or calls asking you to make a charitable donation to an organization and asking for information on which bank account you will use
  • loan offers from shadow banks in foreign countries, in which your personal information is required in order to open an account
  • vacation home rental offers from fake agencies using false addresses and altered photos of the home to be rented

Other types of personal scams include

  • emails from fictitious foreign organizations promising you an inheritance, a prize or money and asking for payment for mailing costs or taxes
  • emails promising you financial compensation in exchange for wiring money through your personal bank account
  • calls from a con artist posing as a foreign doctor or health care professional who contacts the family and friends of a Canadian traveller and informs them that the traveller is in the hospital and that money is required for medical treatment
  • falsified emails in which a con artist poses as a Canadian traveller known by the target who is stuck in a foreign country after being the victim of theft, an accident or kidnapping, and claims he or she needs money to pay for hotel or hospital bills, visas and/or airplane tickets
  • false Internet friendships or cyber-romances in which a con artist claims to want to come to Canada and asks you for financial assistance or help obtaining an entry visa. Treat any request for money with suspicion.
  • marriage schemes resulting from Internet-based relationships. You may be the victim of extortion by in-laws living abroad or be forced to sponsor a spouse who will abandon you after arriving in Canada. These types of situations are especially common in Morocco, Algeria, Guinea and Senegal.
  • letters or announcements advertising the private adoption of a child. A foreign con artist poses as the mother of a child or as a lawyer in charge of finding an adoptive family and describes a difficult situation, often providing fake photos of a child.
  • letters addressed to former victims of fraud from fictitious organizations that claim to have successfully caught the con artists and promising compensation for losses incurred the first time.
  • death notices sent to the loved ones of a Canadian traveller by a fictitious foreign funeral home asking them to send money to repatriate the body to Canada. Counterfeit pieces of identification are often used.

Scams can not only cause considerable financial losses, but many of them can also be a serious threat to the personal safety of the victims. Many victims are convinced to travel to an African country to complete a business transaction, accept a job, get married or to try to recover money sent to the con artist. Some cases have resulted in violent situations, including kidnappings and forced imprisonment. Canadian consular officials are often limited in the assistance they can provide to the victims.

Warning: increasingly common and sophisticated scams

Every day, new cases are reported in which Canadians have requested consular assistance after having their safety compromised by a scam. It is predicted that the number of victims will continue to rise. In many countries, con artists operate without consequences because local authorities often do not have the physical or financial resources needed to combat Internet crimes.

Organized fraud networks are developing more and more innovative and sophisticated approaches to deceive their victims and to extort small or large amounts of money. The criminals conduct extensive searches to create credible documents: complete profiles of fictitious businesses, medical reports, falsified export certificates, etc. The names and logos of reputable organizations, governments and government agencies are often used fraudulently. Websites that appear very authentic are also falsified.

Another type of overseas fraud involves con artists falsely representing themselves as Canadian embassy staff, such as consular officers and even ambassadors. If you are approached by someone claiming to work for a Canadian government office abroad who offers you unsolicited assistance, verify the identity of the individual by contacting the embassy or consulate where they claim to be employed, or by contacting the Emergency Watch and Response Centre in Ottawa at 613-996-8885.

How can you protect yourself?

Any unsolicited business proposal should be carefully examined before you send any money, provide a service or merchandise, or make travel arrangements.

  • Verify your interlocutor's identity by doing a web search. If your interlocutor is a professional (i.e. a doctor, a lawyer, a member of the police force), check with the relevant professional association in the country, without using the contact details that he/she provided.
  • Be wary of any unsolicited business proposal. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
  • Before completing a transaction, do some research to ensure that the proposed method of payment is legitimate, or demand full payment in advance.
  • Be cautious of requests for signed and stamped blank letterhead or invoices.
  • Be cautious of solicitors claiming that your name was provided by someone you do not know.
  • Be cautious of professional messages written with poor grammar or with an inappropriate level of language. The country’s official language should normally be used.
  • Be cautious of job offers for which the conditions seem too good to be true (unrealistic salary, paid vacations, extended holidays) or job offers that require you to pay for initial travel or required documents.
  • Never disclose your banking information, even if the solicitor claims to need the information to deposit a signing bonus.
  • Verify entry requirements (visas) and government immigration policies in the country you plan to visit on business. No outside organization or agency should be involved in issuing travel documents. Letters addressed to immigration officers are not valid.

Be cautious when you are travelling to meet individuals met on the Internet.

  • Verify the identity of the person you plan to meet abroad.
  • Keep in mind that unsuspecting individuals have been used as drug mules by people they met on the Internet.
  • Remember that for a foreign spouse, marrying a Canadian citizen can represent a way to obtain an immigration visa. A number of Canadians have left their jobs and their homes and have sold all of their belongings for a marriage abroad that ended up failing or that never took place.
  • Find out in advance about the laws and customs on relationships and marriage in the destination country. 
  • Travel to the destination country with a return ticket and enough money to stay in a hotel, and keep all of your travel documents in a safe location. Keep contact information for the nearest Canadian government office abroad, in case a problem arises.

We strongly recommended that you stay informed of current types of scams by conducting regular Internet searches.

How can you get help?

Do not hesitate to contact the nearest Canadian government office abroad or to call our Emergency Watch and Response Centre at 613‑996‑8885 (collect calls are possible from certain countries) if:

  • You need assistance abroad after a fraud attempt.
  • You need help to return to Canada.
  • You feel you will be unfairly treated under a country’s laws.
  • You have doubts about the legitimacy of a request for assistance from someone you know who is allegedly experiencing difficulties abroad.

The Government of Canada cannot intervene in private legal affairs, and has no influence over another country’s legal proceedings. However, officials from the nearest Canadian government office abroad can provide you with a list of lawyers in the country in question. For more information on the services offered by Canadian consular officials, visit our Assistance page.

The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre can also provide information to help you.

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