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In light of scams, services for new immigrants focus on fraud detection

Social services agency CEO Queenie Choo says most newcomers trust the authorities but may not be suspicious of scams.

Jeff Vinnick/The Globe and Mail

The past week has seen news of two different fraud schemes targeting the Chinese-Canadian community in the Lower Mainland.

In one case, a dentist in Burnaby was operating out of his bedroom without a licence, relying mostly on word-of-mouth referrals among Chinese-Canadian immigrants for his approximately 1,500 patients. An investigation by the College of Dental Surgeons of B.C. found little evidence of sterilization practices, and the Fraser Health Authority is trying to contact those patients now to have them tested for viruses such as hepatitis C and HIV.

Then on Thursday, the Vancouver Police Department warned about a "blessing scam" that has targeted at least 13 elderly Chinese-Canadians in the city. A group of scam artists convinced the victims to place their valuables – including jewellery and even their life savings in some cases – in a bag to be blessed. The bag is then secretly swapped out with an identical one filled with fakes.

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Queenie Choo is the CEO of S.U.C.C.E.S.S., a social services agency focused on Chinese immigrant settlement and support in British Columbia. She spoke with The Globe and Mail about the challenges of helping new immigrants recognize a fraudulent operation.

What went through your mind when you heard of the Burnaby dentist operating without a licence?

I was very upset about the whole situation. I'm hoping this would be a lesson learned for our system to look at how we can help people understand some of the guidelines in terms of looking for health-care practitioners. For the vulnerable population, like the new immigrants especially, we need to ensure they understand this situation and learn from it. Making sure they don't just look for the cheaper way of doing things, but making sure the quality and proper legal licensing is there.

And among the dentists in the Chinese population, they feel terrible now because now they're being painted with a broad brush. This has tainted the way health practitioners are looked at [in the Chinese-Canadian community].

What can immigrant services do to help prevent false medical practitioners from targeting immigrants?

We give them guidance and suggestions so they can make informed decisions. We can't say, 'You should go to so-and-so for your dental care,' or tell you to go to Blue Cross for your coverage or something like that. But we can say, 'Here are the things that you need to look for.'

For the vulnerable immigrant population, a number of factors could be contributing to why they are choosing this kind of health practitioner. I think that if we can create a list of pointers for people to look for, and what questions to ask, that would help them choose a practitioner.

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In your experience, do immigrants have trouble knowing where to go for help if they feel a scam is targeting them?

Well, within the police force, they have different language-speaking police and they offer workshops on that. I know that Block Watch is instrumental in providing information in different languages. I think it's important to emphasize not taking things at face value. Particularly among the new immigrant population, they can often hear things that they think are true, and aren't being suspicious that there are schemes happening around them. We have to help people understand that.

Is there a problem of new immigrants not trusting authorities in Canada?

I think the majority of them do trust the system, but they don't always know how to navigate it. For any new immigrant, they need to learn the system and understand it, and develop the trust over time.

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