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Fake Canadian visa program circulating on Facebook and WhatsApp

The Tech Transparency Project (TTP) is calling on social media giant Meta to crack down on Canadian visa scams spreading on its platforms.

The organization is a research initiative holding big companies accountable. According to a summary of an investigation it conducted, posts from Facebook accounts claiming to be immigration lawyers are targeting migrant hopefuls offering free travel to Canada, with employment and accommodation accessed through websites.

“The websites tell users they must invite their friends via WhatsApp before they can access the visa program, turning them into unwitting spreaders of the scam,” the report reads. “The sites, however, never produce the promised visa information—or any legitimate information about Canadian immigration.”

The websites harvest unsuspecting people’s personal data, which can be used for identity theft, the group says.

The Government of Canada has warned users of the scam, posting through the Embassy of Canada to Panama Facebook page as one of the ways to reach potential victims.

“The Embassy understands that a fake WhatsApp message is circulating regarding a Canadian Government Employment Recruitment of 2022. This message is not from the Government of Canada. We do not recommend providing your personal information to unknown third parties,” the translated post reads.

According to TTP, Meta is fully aware of these scams and “doesn’t appear to be taking any action against the posts,” violating Meta’s own policies against fraud and deception.

In a statement to CTV News Monday, the company said, "We are committed to stopping scam attempts, and we encourage users to report suspicious content to us."

A spokesperson for Meta went on to say that "harmful content has no place on our platform, and we have policies and technology in place to detect and remove it. We are reviewing TTP’s report, have removed content for breaking our rules and will continue to take action to keep our community secure."

According to TTP, Google seems to be playing a role in allowing fake visa websites to use analytics and advertising tools to collect more data about people and profit off page views.

In a post about its investigation, the TTP shows identical-looking Facebook and WhatsApp posts advertising fake visas in groups for migrants from Central America, South America and Africa.

“The posts state that Canada is recruiting more than 450,000 migrant workers and promise financed travel, free housing, immediate work permits, and legal assistance from the Canadian government for all migrants over the age of 16,” the report by TTP reads.

Before the fake website opens up, a box directs users to send the information to at least 15 other people. TTP translated one site from Spanish saying, “Your Canada visa form will be available as soon as you click the ‘Invite Friends/Group’ button below to share this information with 15 friends or 5 groups on WhatsApp. … If you do not complete this step correctly, the visa form page will not load.”

Other versions of the scam involve Facebook profiles of people pretending to be immigration lawyers. One allegedly fake profile tracked down by TTP is of “Janelis Osoria/Osoria Rosados,” which the group says continues to change to variations of the name.

"The account prompts users who respond to posts about work in Canada to direct message them privately for more information,” the TTP report reads.

Early versions of the scam in January 2022 used link shortening service TinyUrl to direct users to a fake application page. By February, TinyUrl terminated the link, stepping in to remove what it called “spam, fraud or moneymaking scams.”

TTP says Meta has not done anything similar to stop the ads.

The organization highlights in its research how easy it is to spot fake profiles and ads, citing Meta could easily remove them.

“The Canadian visa scam is notable for its brazenness. The same accounts post identical misinformation messages over and over,” the TTP report reads. Top Stories

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