After reading this comprehensive “traveller be warned 101,” you should be able to avoid all scammers that may come your way during your working holiday adventure. The point is not to get paranoid, but simply be aware of the scams that regularly target working holiday makers. From false housing advertisements to job offers to avoid at all costs, we’re going to help you spot the red flags that can lead to scams and other forms of deception.

When in doubt, don’t forget to run an online search by typing in the name of the organisation or person who contacted you along with the word “scam.”
This guide will warn you about the following scams:

  • Working Holiday Visa applications scam
  • Online application scams
  • Housing scams
  • Fake taxis
  • Phone scams
  • Social media impersonation
  • Job scams
  • Vehicle scams
  • Common scams in Japan and South Korea

Working Holiday Visa applications scam

Over the past few years, we’ve noticed an increase in the number of people being swindled by organisations claiming to offer their services for obtaining visas, in particular Working Holiday Visas (mainly for Canada).

For your WHV application, we recommend reading our all our content containing step-by-step instructions for each country, which always link you to the official websites!

Please note that the WHV for Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and Japan is free. So you don’t have to pay any fees for your WHV application to these countries.

Always be careful, though, and make sure you’re on the official sites for any type of application.

Scammy websites mostly target people dreaming of moving to Canada. They often show up at the top of the search page as sponsored links on Google. They typically promise a speedy immigration or visa application process if you’re prepared to pay several thousands of dollars.

These “immigration professionals” can get your contact info from:

  • Their website contact form if you fill it out “to get more info”
  • Various websites (e.g. a public message on a forum), using a bot or buying data from other companies

If you showed interest or if your contact info was bought, you will be contacted by phone or email for a sales pitch. These “immigration professionals” may lead you to believe that they are government employees or immigration law experts (eluding questions about their credentials, of course).

Thanks to a well-crafted pitch, you’ll be asked to pay a few hundred, then several thousands of dollars for a speedy process. If you don’t pay or stop paying, you may be told that you won’t be able to reapply for a visa for a certain period (which is obviously not true).

There are genuine immigration consultants affiliated with recognised professional bodies and accredited to act as representatives. You are entirely free to decide whether or not to use them. Just be aware that they have no decision-making power over your application, and can neither guarantee fast-track processing nor that your application will be successful, but they can guide you through the process.

Read what the Canadian government says about using representatives before making a decision.

Online application scams

Travel authorisation, driver’s licence, police certificates and more—many application processes are now online.

However, make sure you’re using the official website. Unofficial websites may charge higher fees or even charge you when the application process is free.

So be careful when applying for:

  • Certified criminal record checks (this is the official page for Canadians, for instance)
  • Electronic travel authorisation applications such as the eTA for Canada (more on this below), the ESTA for the USA, the eVisitor in Australia, the NZeTA for New Zealand or the K-ETA for South Korea.
  • Note about the eTA for Canada

    First of all, if you were issued a work or study permit for Canada, you already automatically have an eTA. The number and details are on your port of entry (POE) letter. If you have any doubt, you can check your eTA status for free—it takes two minutes.

    If you renew your passport after getting your work or study permit, you must apply for a new eTA before travelling to Canada.

    In this case, just like you did when applying for your permit, use the Government of Canada’s official website. Unofficial websites charge up to $80. The eTA is CA$7.

    If your spouse or common-law partner is coming with you to Canada without a work or study permit, they will need their own eTA (and possibly a visitor visa, depending on their citizenship).

    Housing scams

    Be very careful when looking for housing—looking for a place is stressful and often tricky when rents and demand are high, and scammers love to take advantage of this situation. You will likely browse ads online. Learn how to spot rental fraud!

    Here are a few warning signs that usually lead to scams and some tips to avoid them:

    • The landlord can’t show you the property, but they can send you the keys (with DHL or UPS) and/or have a relative show you the property. However, for some reason, you need to send money beforehand.
    • Never send money to strangers if you or a friend haven’t visited the property. The place may look very different from the pictures in the online ad. Even the location can be really bad.
    • Watch out if you’re asked to send money through Western Union / Moneygram / PCS codes, tickets and coupons / Transcash / NeoSurf or Toneo. These money-transfer solutions should never be used if you don’t know the person who is supposed to receive the money.
    • If you “must” use an unfamiliar method of payment, do some research online first to make sure it’s legit (type “scam” + the organisation’s name, for example).
    • Avoid giving out too much private information when you first contact a landlord or agency. Your personal data may be stolen.
    • In Canada, note that Interac transfers aren’t an issue per se—Interac is a perfectly secure way of transferring money to Canada. However, be very careful about any confirmation emails or SMS messages you receive from Interac during this period, as they could be phishing scams. To find out more, check out the Interac website.
    • Stop all communication if you think it’s a scam, even if they threaten to sue you.
    • To avoid unpleasant surprises, it’s best to look for housing once you’ve arrived. You might consider renting from abroad only if you have a trusted contact on-site.

    Fake taxis

    Fresh-off-the-plane travellers are often an easy target. After a long flight, all you want to do is get to your Airbnb, hotel or hostel and freshen up. But you still have to make the journey from the airport to the place you booked, and this is the tricky part.

    Don’t just get into a random unmarked car. These fake taxis can charge a lot more than regular ones, not to mention more serious safety concerns.

    The best way to avoid fake taxi scams is finding out how to get from the airport to your place BEFORE you leave. Check the airport website—most airports offer useful information on how to get to the city (public transport, cabs, shuttles, etc.). Choose an “official” transportation mode based on your needs and budget—official taxis, Uber or public transportation.

    Phone scams

    Beware if, once in your destination country, you receive a call from someone claiming to be a government agent. These people could be calling “on behalf” of the immigration office or the tax office, asking you to make a payment for X or Y reason. You may also receive an automated message telling you that a warrant has been issued for your arrest. Beware, these are scams. In some cases, scammers can be very convincing. When you’re new to a country, you may be frightened when someone posing as a government representative threatens to have you deported if you don’t pay a certain fee. In any case, don’t give in—it’s almost certainly a scam.

    To find out more, check out these tip pages from the Canadian, Australian and Korean governments:

    Don’t trust “local” telephone numbers

    Don’t be fooled into thinking that just because the number calling you is located in Australia or Canada, for example, it won’t be a scam. It’s quite simple nowadays to get a phone number from the country you’re in to look legit. For example, you might see a Canadian phone number appear when the person is actually thousands of kilometres away—spoofing is an art scammers master very well.

    Social media impersonation

    Travelers and expats tend to make the most of social networks, especially Facebook groups, to ask questions, find information, and chat with like-minded people.

    However, scammers can use Facebook groups to impersonate you. This is a form of identity theft—they can create a Facebook account using your profile photo and cover photo. The goal is to contact your friends and family to ask them for help and money, supposedly because you’re in trouble somewhere far, far away.

    The best way to protect yourself is to safeguard your Facebook data—hide your friends list and make your profile accessible only to your friends.

    You can also tell your friends and family that if you have a problem on the road, you won’t contact them via social networks, but by email or on WhatsApp. That way, they’ll know that if they’re contacted by Messenger, it’s probably a scam, and they can warn you something dodgy is going on.

    Job scams

    Looking for work during your WHV? Watch out for time-wasting (and sometimes even money-wasting) misleading offers and deceptive employers.

    Here are a few tips to help you avoid getting into tricky situations:

    • Your “employer” only requires a small upfront investment, then you will have to convince others to invest as well without selling a product or service. You’re probably being tricked into joining a pyramid scheme, and this is illegal in most countries.
    • Avoid vague ads that don’t describe the position and give you no idea of the job you’ll be doing. You could end up meeting your “employer” in a faraway suburb and be offered to “work from home” selling products using dishonest sales tactics.
    • Never pay to get a job. For example, skip all fee-based job listings.
    • Beware of “Mystery Shopper” jobs for organisations like Western Union or Moneygram. Sometimes the “job” involves sending you a stolen cheque that will be temporarily credited to your account. Meanwhile, you’ll be tricked into sending money with Western Union or Moneygram.
    • In Australia, among other countries, never trust an employer who asks for a deposit for whatever reason (to hold a spot for you, etc.).
    • Beware of babysitting, gardening or domestic work scams where your potential employer tells you that you will be paid by cheque.
    • Never start working before signing (and reading) your employment contract. In some countries (e.g. Canada and New Zealand), employers may not make you sign a contract for odd jobs. This is not necessarily a bad sign, but when you get your first pay cheque (after one or two weeks, depending on the country), make sure you get paid. When in doubt, keep proof of your work (photos, videos) so you can report your employer if they try to rip you off!
    • In Australia and New Zealand, for example, it’s not uncommon to be asked to complete a trial period before getting a job. Make sure it’s a trial, not unreported work. If you are asked to work for several hours, or even several days, without pay, this is not normal. The trial period should generally not exceed 2-3 hours and should focus on a very specific task, such as washing dishes quickly or frothing milk in a café. Many people are fooled into thinking they’re doing the right thing. But some unscrupulous employers, particularly in the hotel and restaurant business, take advantage of this free labour opportunity!
    • In New Zealand, some employers offer you accommodation on-site, either in your van or in a home. Make sure you find out about the rent to avoid unpleasant surprises. Ask whether the rent will be deducted directly from your salary or whether you’ll have to pay extra. Finally, make sure that the accommodation is clean, safe and practical—most of the time, these are not registered accommodation options and they could be substandard. Some employers even ask for compensation if you decide to climb into the back of the service vehicle to get from THEIR home to the work field. Here’s an example of what you should avoid, as reported by the news in New Zealand.

    Whatever your WHV destination, job scams do exist—just look for red flags. Remember that you can report employers who don’t pay you. You do have rights as a temporary foreign worker.

    Vehicle scams

    Buying or selling a vehicle? Watch out for scams and scammers!

    • When buying a vehicle, beware of people who tell you they are abroad or away but can send a friend to show you the vehicle. Of course, they will need a deposit to make sure you’ll show up—and don’t worry, you’ll get it back if you decide not to buy! Guess what—you’ll never see the money again and there’s probably no car to be sold. This is a scam; you can stop the conversation right there.
    • Always test-drive a potential vehicle. Don’t commit to the purchase before you have seen and tested the vehicle.
    • In Australia, check that the vehicle you wish to buy is not stolen or written off and that it’s free of debt (do a quick AU$2 check on Personal Property Securities Register, this is the official website). You should also check if it’s properly registered (Rego) and has a history.
    • Also in Australia, note that guarantees for the purchase of a vehicle from a professional are not the same in all states. Don’t let your guard down if buying from a dealership—some employees can be dishonest and try to sell wrecks to backpackers.
    • In New Zealand, you can also check the car’s history with CarJam. The free version gives you basic information such as the number of previous owners and whether the car has ever been reported stolen. A more comprehensive version is available for a fee. Just like in Australia, you can check whether the vehicle is free of debt by requesting the Motor Vehicle Register from the New Zealand Transport Agency. Finally, you can check your vehicle’s mechanical condition by having it inspected at an AA-approved garage.
    • You can also get scammed when selling your own vehicle. You may be contacted by someone who claims to be very interested but unable to see the vehicle. After several conversations and for various reasons, you’ll be asked to send money yourself through Western Union, which is a big no-no if you don’t know the person personally (and if you’re the seller!)

    Don’t waste your time dealing with scammers. If the buyer or seller claims to be abroad, forget it—even if you’re desperate and even if the offer is good.

    Common scams in Japan and South Korea

    Cult recruitment

    New religious movements—sometimes labelled as a “cult,” depending on various countries’ definitions of religious and mystical movements—have a strong presence in Japanese and Korean society. They sometimes target foreigners and try to convince them to join.

    The recruitment process is simple—a member will start a friendly conversation in the street, take an interest in your background, suggest an activity or an outing, and then gradually try to get you to join their movement.

    Bar scams

    If you like to go out at night in Japan, beware of the many “hidden charges” scams. Hustlers lure foreigners off the street and offer to take them out for a drink, sometimes even offering the first drink for free. In the end, however, the bill is very high, since all kinds of extra charges (for the table, time, etc.) have been added. Things can quickly get out of hand if you refuse to pay—these places are often run by the local mafia…

    This is particularly true in hostess bars, where female staff push customers to drink by dangling a potential relationship interest (and hostesses are sometimes underage).

    In short, as a general rule, be wary of places with touts. Try to negotiate to lower the bill if you get ripped off. In any case, you’ll have to pay a big chunk of the bill, and staff will be happy to escort you to an ATM if you don’t have the cash ready. Never resort to violence or threats—remember that in Japan, if there’s a conflict between a foreigner and a local, it’s David against Goliath.

    Although less common, you may find yourself in similar situations in South Korea, so be careful too.

    Adultery scams

    In Japan, adultery is punishable by law, and the person cheated on can receive astronomical sums in damages. Some married Japanese couples developed a tricky scam to take advantage of this. The idea? One of the members of the couple seduces the target and starts a relationship. Then, the other member discovers the “adulterer” (created out of thin air), sues the lover who didn’t know and now risks having to pay compensation. The amount varies, but increases according to the “seriousness” of the consequences of the infidelity, i.e. potential divorce and a difficult situation for the children.

    If you find yourself in this situation, save all conversations and other evidence that would show you were unaware your partner was married (for example, if you meet someone on a dating app, ask them if they’re married and if they say “No,” take a screenshot and save, just in case). Indeed, prosecution requires the lover to have been aware of their partner’s marital status.

L'équipe de vous informe depuis 2005 sur tous les aspects d'un PVT et vous accompagne dans vos projets de mobilité à l'international !

The team has been around since 2005, guiding thousands of young adults through all aspects of their working holiday!

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