A London, Ont., woman who handed over thousands of dollars to scammers hopes her story is a cautionary tale that will prevent other newcomers to Canada from being defrauded.
Saifora Ibrahim Paktiss settled in southwestern Ontario with her family in mid-December after she was forced to leave Afghanistan. She’s choosing to focus on the positive reaction of those who rallied to help her family after the scam rather than on the fraudsters who ended up with her $7,000.
“I couldn’t believe that something like this happened in a country like Canada, where we have heard about all the positive and good things,” Paktiss told CBC News.
“The community showed me love and affection, and they really gave me a hope for a better life. I mentioned this to my kids, that we really have to work hard and we have to be good citizens for this country who really supported us in our hard times.”
I have given my money to nobody.” – Saifora Ibrahim Paktiss
Paktiss, her husband, three kids and sister-in-law came to Canada after the Taliban took over Afghanistan. They were brought here by the Canadian government because they worked for Canadian non-governmental organizations and feared for their safety, and were staying in a south London hotel while finding a permanent place to live and figuring out their financial situation.
“Three or four days after opening an account in the bank, a call came and it said that something had been caught on the border, there was a problem, they were calling from the border agency and they had something in my name,” Paktiss said.
“They said there are 10 to 15 bank accounts in your name, that there are many other illegal transactions made under your name. I told them, ‘I’m not a culprit.’ I was afraid because I really did not want to have a criminal record. I will need to live in Canada, I will need to work, to make a career, so I did not want to start with a bad name. Honestly, I was not even aware about all these scams before.”
The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre said extorting money from people is a common scam, and although newcomers aren’t specifically targeted — scammers use auto-diallers that places thousands of calls at a time and wait for someone to pick up — they are more likely to be susceptible, because they’re not familiar with government policies or the types of scams.
“They manipulate the caller ID and it does make it very believable,” said Sue Labine, who oversees the call centre that takes reports about fraudsters.
The fraudsters kept Paktiss on the phone, got her banking information, and had her go to the bank to withdraw money before asking her to go a convenience store to put money into a bitcoin machine. After that, the money becomes unrecoverable, Labine said.
Paktiss was then asked to go to a store to buy gift cards to make sure her credit cards worked. When the scammers asked her to start confirming her sister-in-law’s banking information, she refused.
“When I went home, I told my husband that the border agency had called me and he said it was a scam, that I have given my money to nobody.”
So far in 2022, there have been 14,200 reports of fraud to the Canadian Anti Fraud Centre. More than 3,100 people have fallen victim to scams, totalling about $18 million in lost money, Labine said.
A helping hand
Paktiss spoke to the Cross Cultural Learners Centre as well as the Ministry of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, which were helping the family with resettlement. They reported the fraud to the police and tried to get the money back from the convenience store bitcoin machine and the bank, but there was nothing they could do. The family was out more than $7,000.
When he heard about Paktiss being taken by scammers, Rob Stainton said he knew he had to do something.
Stainton started a GoFundMe for the family, which raised enough money so they could repay a loan for first and last months’ rent.
“He came to the house and noticed that we were sleeping on the floor, on the carpet, and he was so kind,” Paktiss said. “That was a big lesson for me and my family. We saw the love, the care and attention from the Canadian people here.”
People in Stainton’s circle contributed kitchen items and furniture to get the family set up.
“Rob hired a truck and collected all the donations and brought them to our house,” Paktiss said. “I was quite discouraged because I didn’t have anything to start my life with, but this was a very open arms welcome. They supported us with their love and affection, and they really gave me hope for a better life.”
Now, Paktiss is advocating for the Cross Cultural Learners Centre and other settlement agencies to include information about common scams in their information to newcomers, so others don’t get caught up in the same web.
“There should be practical information and videos as part of your orientation package because I have heard of two or three other newcomers in Toronto and those areas who were also scammed,” she said. “I think newcomers are easy targets because they may not even be aware of such scams.
“People need to know that the government is not contacting or doing anything via phone or via email, or by WhatsApp or text messages. They only do postal mail. I really want to convey this message to all the newcomers and others.”
Starting a new life
Now in Canada for four months, Paktiss and her family are settling in. Her kids — ages 12, 10 and 5 — are going to school and thriving. Their English is so good, they don’t need extra English-as-a-second-language classes. Her husband has a job, and she has been looking for one, too, though lack of Canadian experience is thwarting her efforts.
Her new life is different than the 10-hour days she spent working in the Canadian Embassy in Kabul, but Paktiss is hopeful. She’s applied for more than 100 jobs, as well as a PhD program at Western University — she has two master’s degrees — and a diploma program at Fanshawe College.
“We are living in a good community, my kids are very happy with their studies and with their teachers,” she said. “I do not have any regrets coming to Canada.”