TORONTO (Reuters) - Telephone scammers have begun to target refugees in Canada with extortion schemes by posing as government employees and threatening them with arrest or deportation unless they immediately wire money, Canadian authorities said.
With complaints to Canada's government surging, law enforcement officials last week warned that the scammers were taking aim at immigrants and refugees.
Complaints to the Canadian government about the extortion scams last year reached more than 15,000, 10 times higher than in 2014, and at least 5,200 complaints already have been lodged this year, Canada's Anti-Fraud Centre said on Monday.
The Liberal government has taken in some 25,000 Syrian refugees since taking power in November, and Immigration Minister John McCallum last week said Canada would accept 10,000 more.
The warning by Canada's Competition Bureau did not specify how scammers are targeting refugees and immigrants. Marie-France Faucher, a spokeswoman for the law enforcement agency, said the warning was issued mainly due to the "arrival of a number of new immigrants and refugees to Canada over the past year."
Daniel Williams, a senior fraud specialist with Canada's Anti-Fraud Centre, said the agency started receiving complaints about such scams in late 2013. The scammers initially looked through phonebooks and targeted people with south Asian names, operating on the assumption they were new to the country, but have become more indiscriminate and expanded to include other groups, Williams said.
Williams said such scams involve fraudsters demanding money to resolve what they claimed were tax or immigration issues and threatening victims with jail or fines.
"And if you're foreign-born, your passport will be revoked, your citizenship will be revoked, you'll be deported," Williams said, explaining what the scam victims were told.
Government data showed that 1,111 victims of phone scams of all kinds have lost more than C$3.5 million ($2.68 million) since 2014. But the actual amount of money lost to phone scams remained unknown. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police said only about 5 percent of victims report these scams to authorities.
Reporting by Ethan Lou; Editing by Will Dunham