Scammer stories about unregistered migration agents, overpriced and erroneous CV packages, imaginary sponsored jobs, fake visas and airline tickets for flights that don’t exist…
These are only some of the scams faced by South Africans wanting to secure a better life for themselves and their children overseas. Some of the lies told by unscrupulous dealers are huge, some don’t seem as serious, but it all ends with the client paying for services that are unnecessary or simply don’t exist.“It’s hard enough to immigrate, it’s so expensive and so difficult, we don’t need the extra lies and payments. I can’t afford to lose money” says Gloria Klu, who was the victim of a con artist. Ms. Klu had her CV written by a South African writer, who also promised to market the CV and secure a position for her. "I paid R3000 for her to write my CV and market it to employers. There was no proof of job applications and the CV was a mess. Luckily another CV writer stepped in to help me, otherwise I don’t know what I would have done.”
The problem has become so widespread that administrators of some of the largest Facebook groups for South Africans immigrating to foreign countries have taken note. Despite warning members about accepting private messages and friend requests from people making promises that seem too good to be true, many still fall prey to the promise of a better job or better life. Unfortunately, many do not realize that they've been scammed until after they've paid for a service, and the scammers are long gone.
Heather Myburgh manages the largest group on Facebook for South Africans moving to Canada and the USA and says her admin team is constantly warning people to beware of scammers. “If something sounds too good to be true, it is!" She warns, "Nobody can promise you a job within a certain time, but people are desperate and they want to believe. So many members have lost money and we try to warn everyone, but often we only hear about the scam after the money is gone.” Her message is very clear: Don’t accept offers sent via private message! Although it may appear that individuals are being friendly or seeking to help you, private messages prevent accountability. While a Facebook page for a business can list reviews, locations and provide general proof that the seller provides the services you pay for, private messages do not. If you are blocked, it becomes impossible to contact them again, and it is difficult to warn others about your experiences.
“Scammers will join a large, established group and then message all the members. They may not join as their regular account but rather use an alias to join the group, to gain access to the member list,” Mrs. Myburgh explains. The most popular scam on her group (South Africans wanting to Live and Work in Canada and USA) is offers of sponsored jobs.“ Members get messaged with promises of sponsored jobs or cheaper visas all the time, it’s terrible. We try to keep members safe and encourage everyone to report anyone messaging them in private. It’s underhand and unscrupulous and it has to stop.”
Scammer stories are unfortunately very common amongst those looking to immigrate. Mary-Jane Gouws is another victim of a CV and sponsorship scam.
“We paid R2800 for my husband’s resume rewrite, LinkedIn profile and marketing for three months. A total of 12 emails were sent to “market” him and he was promised a fully sponsored job in Canada. We were afterwards approached by a recruiter who advised that my husband’s resume was very poorly written. I went through it and noticed all the mistakes and grammar mistakes, the alignment everything was horrendous. There was nothing done on the LinkedIn profile.”
Sadly, there is nothing the victim can do once the scammer blocks them. There is no recourse for bad services, or unhappy customers. Once the money is gone, it's gone; and even worse, time is often wasted as victims leave their employment futures in the hands of dishonest scammers. These unqualified and unscrupulous dealers are active all over Facebook, targeting any groups that attract South Africans wanting to relocate to foreign shores.
Megan Paine, one of the owners of the Facebook group SA2Eire, says her admin team has seen it all and heard every scammer story in the book.“ Ireland has a policy of UP TO 90 days holiday for South African passport holders. This is based on proof you bring with you when you land in Ireland and you are granted entry based on that. This is NOT for seeking or taking up work. However, we have seen many cases over the years of people who have either voluntarily come over and sought work, or were conned into coming over and working cash in hand, under minimum wage for unscrupulous employers and then kicked to the curb at ninety days because then they are no longer legal. Well, they weren’t legal to work in the first place!”
Most Scammer Stories involving labour exploitation involve non public-facing employment roles. Ms.Paine explains that most of these jobs are in the kind of work that are considered invisible labor, such as chefs, kitchen porters and cleaners, and often they are people who are easily convinced or possibly gullible to the promises of others. “The dream of a better life has lead them to use their life savings to do something that simply cannot be done long term and their money is wasted.”
Others offer advice on how to use the asylum process to gain unlawful entry into Ireland, potentially putting their clients at risk of imprisonment and fines. Ms. Paine reports, “People also set up Facebook and WhatsApp groups to teach people how to use and abuse the asylum process of coming to Ireland and the UK by travelling into the UK via the Northern Ireland border, how to buy fake South African passports and come to Ireland. They teach people what to say and how to do it.”
After leaving home, others fall prey to a new type of scam, which seeks to take advantage of those seeking a place to live. "The housing crisis in Ireland has led to many scams and fed through Facebook marketplace or some dubious property websites where verification is not tight, so people have been scammed out of thousands of EUROS. We implore people to do their homework. Whether that is to Ireland, UK, Canada, USA, NZ or wherever the wind takes us South Africans. Too many times we have people throw in the towel and return to SA and blame the country they were in. It is very often bad planning and bad research as to what the destination is like. ”
Proper planning is the key to success in avoiding immigration scams.
The experts agree the only way for immigrants to protect themselves is to take the time to do their own research. According to Katrin Maja O’Flynn, Director of Intergate Emigration, it’s simple to know whether you are dealing with a licensed adviser when moving to Australia or new Zealand.“The way people can avoid scammers is that they can check the registries in Australia and New Zealand, to see if they are dealing with licensed advisers.” If they are not on the list, avoid them.
Diane Theron from New Routes Canada agrees, reiterating there are no short cuts. “Canada is one of the most popular destinations for immigrants, we have an express entry pool with some two hundred thousand applicants hoping to be selected. Immigration scams are possibly one of the biggest fraud operations that Canada is struggling with and sadly not only through seedy, creepy middle of a dark passage environments. The ugly reality of people being victimised by unscrupulous actors, is the reason for the existence of the College of Immigration & Citizenship Consultants (CICC). There are also further checks-and-balances in place, such as the Regulated Canadian Immigration Consultants (RCIC) register, to protect the consumer."
Ms.Theron advises checking consultants' standing on the CICC website before hiring anyone. “You can easily see by their name or company name if they have been suspended, disciplined or are in good standing. However, even this is not fool proof as scammers have also been known to clone websites and even profiles on the RCIC itself. These are certainly shark-infested waters in which we swim.”
One of the worst scammer stories Ms.Theron recollects was from a client who emigrated to Canada under a business category. “An expensive route to follow as it is, at around C$50,000, the gentleman had paid for the business part of the application and was awaiting news from his lawyer on when it was to be submitted. He was calling me to get advice on how to include his family in the process. As we were chatting, I googled the lawyer in question. It was immediately clear they had been arrested several months prior and charged with defrauding millions of dollars. My client was blissfully unaware that the fees he had paid had certainly not gone towards the cost of his application. Instead, the money had gone towards payment for a new pool installation at the lawyer’s beautiful home.”
The question arises: What’s the best way to protect yourself?
1. Don't accept offers via private message.
Professional recruiters will contact you via external websites, or email. International recruiters often do not communicate through phone call, unless an interview has already been arranged.
2. If it looks too good to be true, it is.
The old adage is true for anything from buying a used car, to looking for a job. If it seems too good to be true, then investigate further. Remember that any legitimate job offer will not ask you to pay anything to continue the hiring process.
3. Reviews are your best friend.
Don't trust someone just because they are a smooth talker. Don't trust someone just because their page has good reviews either; while it is a good sign, reviews can be paid for, especially if there are only a few, and they all sound the same. Checking news reports, searching offer letters online to check for scams, and determining credibility should be your first steps before you even consider spending any money.
If you were buying a car, would you trust the seller when they say it runs perfectly, or would you take it for a spin first to judge for yourself? Just like any other important decision, it's crucial to research for yourself what immigration is like for the country of your choice. Credible sources include the official website for the country you're interested in, as well as immigration companies that are accredited by the government of that country. Instructions should be clear, and easy to understand. Although it may show you that immigration will be harder than expected, it's better to get information directly from the source than from other people who might twist the truth to their benefit.
5. Put your best foot forward!
If you are looking to immigrate, you should consider what skills and assets you have that will make you a good choice to hire. A professional CV is a good first step, as is training on how to ace your interviews. Any professional learning that can level up your marketability should also be considered.
Avoiding immigration scams is possible with the right mindset and preparation. And when you are deciding on an immigration service, remember- just because it costs a lot, doesn't mean it's worth a lot.