Immigration scammers target Filipinos

Monina Relano warns kababayans about immigration scam

photo:Phil Hossack/Winnipeg Free Press

November 18, 2015

Winnipeg, Manitoba

(Ed’s note) “You can fool some people some time but you can’t fool people all the time.”

This time, the scammers picked the wrong person to fool.

Monina Relano, a retired school teacher, is a feisty woman who will stand up for what is right. During the height of the Marcos dictatorship in the 80s, she stood up against the tyrant and was a pillar in the only anti-Marcos organization in Canada – the August 21 Movement (ATOM). ATOM, an acronym for the date of the assassination of Senator Benigno ‘Ninoy’ Aquino (father of the current President Benigno Aquino 3rd) was formed in Winnipeg to expose Marcos. The organization was responsible for the visit to Winnipeg of Ninoy’s brother, Butz Aquino, as well as other prominent anti-Marcos personalities like Dr. Mita Pardo de Tavera and Heherson Alvarez who played important roles in the cabinet of President Corazon Aquino.

Here is the Winnipeg Free Press story:

More than 45 years after Winnipeg resident Monina Relano moved to Canada from the Philippines, she got a phone call Tuesday saying there was a problem with her immigration paperwork.
“I was scared,” said Relano. Though she’s been a Canadian citizen since 1975, she was taken aback by the authoritative voice on the phone. The man told her she didn’t fill out a required immigration form and now had to pay an out-of-court settlement of $2,490 or the RCMP would be at her door.

Monina Relano, who came to Canada from Philippines in 1969 and became a Canadian citizen in the 1970s, got a call from phone scammers claiming to be with the Government of Canada. and stating that she made a mistake on an immigration form. Purchase Photo Print
Relano figured out it was an immigration phone scam but worries more recent newcomers without permanent status in Canada might be conned. She wants to warn them before they get the call and end up swindled.
“So many new immigrants don’t know how the government works,” said Relano. “They would give their Visa number and be done with it.”
She got the call Tuesday at about 4 p.m.
“He said ‘This is Immigration Canada, and we want to inform you there’s been a complaint filed again you.’ I said ‘Like what?’ and he said I can’t discuss it in detail. He passed the phone over to the next person.” A man identifying himself as a supervisor told her “I want you to listen and don’t say anything.” He asked when she arrived in Canada, when she became a citizen and then told her she failed to fill out an immigration form “which is very important to stay in this country,” she recalled.
“He said to me that ‘Because of this, your case has been referred to the RCMP’… He said ‘You have to take this case seriously. If you don’t, you will be taken to court, and the proceedings will cost you $80,000 in legal fees, and the RCMP will put you on a plane and haul you back to the Philippines’… He said ‘If you want this kept out of the courts with a settlement you could send us $2,490.” She had to decide right away or the RCMP would be at her door, he said.
“Listening to something like that is scary,” she said. “It scared me to the point my knees were shaking,” said Relano. “I was trying to imagine what I might have done wrong — maybe I failed to fill out the form?”
The call ended when she said she had to speak to her lawyer before making a decision.
“Twenty minutes I was on the phone,” with the immigration phone scammer. “It was like a nightmare.”
When she checked her call display, the calls appeared to come from a Winnipeg area code and an Ottawa area code.
She tried calling those numbers, but their voice mailboxes were full.
The numbers on her call display weren’t the actual numbers the con artists called from, says the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.
“It’s the magic of VOIP (voice over Internet protocol) caller-ID spoofing,” said senior fraud specialist Daniel Williams. “These guys are expert at it.” They’re able to make it look like the calls are coming from a government department phone number, he said.
Thousands of Canadians have received a call similar to the one Relano got — with a con artist posing as a federal immigration or Canada Revenue Agency official demanding payment, said Williams from the centre located in North Bay, Ont. They’re coming from clandestine call centres in India and targeting people all over that country, Canada and the United States, he said.
“They’re masters of manipulation.” A government agency would send a letter notifying a taxpayer or newcomer if there were problems with their income tax return or application form. They would not pressure anyone over the phone to immediately send money, he said.
People who receive a call from a phone scammer can report it to the centre at 1-888-495-8501. There’s not a lot they can do to prosecute the con men abroad, with police resources directed to more serious and violent crimes than telephone fraud. Getting the word out to the public about scams is their No. 1 crime-fighting tool.
“Any publicity we get cuts down the victimization of people before they get the call,” said Williams. “That is the best way of attacking the bad guys.”

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