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Stories Never Published -- [Killed by Globe & Mail] -- Become a Canadian Afghanistan Scam

I have written and filed stories that are killed for some reason or another. Finding another home for some of these stories is sometimes impossible because the news cycle shifts quickly, especially around conflict zones. In the past two years, I have had four stories killed. One found a new home -- a shining light after I experienced some intense imposter syndrome – more to come.  


Another has yet to find a home -- an LGBTQ story that I still think has legs, but the publication that was going to support it shifted gears and removed part of its LGBTQ coverage.


Yet another – the editor completely ghosted me after I filed the story, and I just decided to move on.


And then last was this story, which I decided should be shared anyway – even if just on my website. It fell out of the cycle but deserves to be read by at least one person. In the story, Abdul gets back his money but is still not in a stable situation.


In the weeks leading to the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan, Abdul Latif had already contemplated leaving Kabul with his wife and then two-year-old daughter. His career as a project manager with the United Nations and Hazara ethnic background put him in potential danger.

 

In despair, he clicked on a Facebook post, one of many advertisements for immigration services he had seen pop up more frequently on his account. It led to a website called Become A Canadian (BAC) with a Canada government logo and ‘visa’ splashed across the front. The website asserted they could determine his eligibility for a Canadian permanent residence visa for a $15 assessment fee. 

 

That small assessment fee set Mr. Latif up to become a victim of an up-selling scheme that involves a parent company, Memo Global, and its affiliates with origins outside of Canada, with no way out of Afghanistan. The parent company and its subsidiaries remain in operation, and despite a series of complaints and regulatory investigations launched against them in Canada, their immigration assessment campaigns continue to target victims worldwide.

 

On August 4, 2021 Mr. Latif received a call from a private number. “John Roberts” claimed to be a BAC case officer. He allegedly told Mr. Latif his assessment score lacked seven points to be eligible for a resettlement visa and assured he could help fill that gap if Mr. Latif paid an upfront fee of US$1,948.

 

Receipts shared by Mr. Latif show that he was charged for a job search platform membership, online résumé and English preparation courses. The platform - Jobs Across the World - simply re-directed him to other job-seeking boards. “It’s as if I was searching on my own,” he explained. He started attending their online English classes and quickly realized he was too advanced.

 

As Kabul fell to the Taliban, Mr. Latif recalled seeing news that Canada would be accepting at least 20,000 Afghan refugees - a goal later doubled to 40,000. “I didn’t look into the government process because I felt stressed,” he said. “I urged John to put my case in priority.”

 

On August 18, Mr. Latif received a call allegedly from BAC’s account manager, who identified herself as “Shirley Brown”. “My heart goes out to you and your family on what you are going through. Stay safe and strong,” the representative later wrote in an email.

 

She allegedly asked for documents including passports, birth and marriage certificates and another up-front payment for US$2,430. Mr. Latif asked what these fees were for and was told again that it was to help him make up the seven points. But the day after, he received an e-mail saying his score was the same. Mr. Latif emailed a final complaint on August 19 to BAC, who said that visa processes cannot be done overnight.

 

After months of silence following his last complaint, Mr. Latif received a full refund from BAC shortly after the company was approached by The Globe and Mail.

 

In a statement to The Globe under a generic “Customer Relations Management” signature, the company refused to give a name for its spokesperson and defended its actions as “legitimate services,” insisting they help clients improve their potential visa eligibility. 

 

In the case of Mr. Latif, the company stated it changed its processes following news of the Taliban takeover so that they were no longer able to accept potential clients from Afghanistan effective September 3. Mr. Latif had purchased their services before that date. The statement added that “the actions taken by the company to not add more customers from this country and to issue a refund to the client only demonstrate proper and fair conduct.”

 

“One of the main problems coming out of the Afghanistan crisis was a lack of clear information. The Canadian government announces programs, but everyone is trying to figure out how it actually works,” said Janet Dench, executive director of the non-governmental organization Canadian Council for Refugees. “This sort of situation really opens itself up for people who want to take advantage of a crisis.”

 

According to Facebook Ad Library, the BAC Facebook page is managed from Israel and the UK. A spokesperson for Meta said, “the ads do not violate our policies, but we will continue to review content, and take action to help keep our community safe, including responding to valid legal requests by regulators.” 

 

BAC claims on its website to have a physical location in Thornhill, Ontario. However, the address links to a PO box located inside a UPS store. The website is owned by a private entity in Spain called Immigration Solutions, S.L, and connected through public records and IP addresses to an Israeli company, Memo Global.

 

Memo Global says on its website that it assists thousands of clients to prepare and submit their application to programs such as the Green Card Lottery, Australia & Canada immigration visas.”

  

Memo Global’s affiliates, including BAC, have been called out for defrauding clients worldwide. According to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre244 complaints have been filed since 2014 against Memo Global’s Canadian affiliates with nearly CA$400,000 in losses. The actual number of victims could be higher, as not all victims are aware of Canada’s fraud reporting processes. 

 

While these websites use a disclaimer stating that their information “should not be considered as expert or professional advice,” BAC lists on its website that it subcontracts two Canadian-registered immigration consultants, Amir Shuval and Sigal Barak, and their Canadian-incorporated company Great North Immigration, to perform visa eligibility assessments.

  

According to their terms of use, BAC’s customers are not clients of Mr. Shuval and Ms. Barak, and at no point does Great North Immigration directly enter any contracts.

 

“Immigration consultants should have direct contact with their clients. If they aren’t in control of the practice, that’s concerning,” said Ravi Jain, co-founder of the Canadian Immigration Lawyers Association.

 

CICC is pursuing 10 active disciplinary proceedings against the two consultants, according to their spokesperson, Christopher May. Some of the charges question the consultants’ involvement with Memo Global affiliates. Clients reportedly paid large sums to these affiliates, who represented Mr. Shuval and Ms. Barak as subcontractors. The applicants did not move far along in their Canadian immigration process. They all requested but did not receive refunds.

 

 A CICC tribunal will review the cases later this year and determine disciplinary action depending on evidence brought forward. “Action can include remedial education suspension, practice restriction, or being stripped of your license permanently,” explained Mr. May.

 

Mr. Shuval denied any wrongdoing in an e-mailed statement, noting that Great North Immigration does not have consultant-agent relationships with the brands they work with, and their involvement is limited to an assessment.

 

“Disappointed customers are using complaints to the CICC to resolve transaction disputes in connection with supplemental services that have nothing to do with Great North Immigration,” he wrote.

 

CICC acknowledges there is little it can do with companies outside of Canada with websites promoting immigration to Canada. “Some of these immigration websites are acting inappropriately with their marketing terms, and we view them as being offside with industry regulation. But we do not have the power to prosecute those with registrations in a foreign jurisdiction,” explained Mr. May.

  

While marketing websites like BAC are challenging to shut down, awareness of their dangers is critical. Mr. May emphasizes providing consumers enough details in their own languages about immigration consultants to make informed decisions, including information about consultants’ license status and disciplinary charges.

 

Alongside allegations of defrauding its customers, Memo Global employment practices have also been called into question. A former employee revealed to The Globe what working for the company was like, offering a glimpse of how it operates. Aaron was 19 years old when he joined the company. His surname has been withheld for fear of reprisal.

 

In the role of an immigration consultant, he had to learn a script and how to counter possible arguments from clients. He claims he was taught that he was “giving hope to people seeking to immigrate from their developing countries.” He grew wary of what was going on around him quickly. “We were strongly discouraged to say that the call centre was in Israel.”

 

Aaron cold-called prospects, many seeking to immigrate to both the US and Canada. He helped clients fill in replicas to government forms and collect documents. But he said that the company’s real goal was to profit from upselling products applicants did not need.

 

“We would sell a language pack, which would probably be worth little for a thousand dollars,” Aaron said, referencing language learning software and e-books. He explained that consultants had discretion over what to charge based on the client’s circumstances.

 

“Someone from Kuwait sounds rich, and you would try to sell him many language packs because he would perceive the extra languages as an advantage.” Employees were allegedly instructed never to use the word “guarantee”, but they could push products that could hypothetically appear to secure visas for clients.

 

Aaron looks back at the experience with much regret. “The company is one giant scam,” he said. “But it didn’t register though until years later because I didn’t know any better.”

  

A year later, laying low back in Afghanistan, Mr. Latif and his family have not lost all hope about leaving. He has since applied to the Canadian Afghan immigration program through the government website.

 

“I have to think about my daughter. If I was alone, I wouldn’t mind living here under any circumstances,” he said. But I want my daughter to grow up normally and live a happy and meaningful life. I just hope we can find another way out.”

 

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