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Experience With Immigration Fraud

April 13th, 2016

As you may know, I organize a conference that gets many international speakers and attendees. Although many of them have no issue travelling to Canada, some require a travel visa, which means that the Canadian embassy in their country will grant them permission for a temporary stay. Citizens of some countries have an extra step where they need to get an invitation letter. This letter is provided by a Canadian citizen directly to the person, which they in turn bring to the embassy to apply for a visa.

As an organizer, this is something that I do every year for some of my speakers. Every year, dozens of potential attendees contact me for an invitation letter.
In the past, I asked people to buy a ticket before I provided them with such a letter. Some of them were obviously just trying to use our event to get in, because I never heard from them after asking to buy a ticket. Others were legitimate attendees and I met them in person later at the event. The purchase was a filter, because otherwise it would have been too easy to just get the letter and come to Canada. I can't say to my government that this person will come to Canada to attend our conference if that's not guaranteed, which is why those tickets were also non-refundable. It would have been easy to purchase, apply for a visa and immediately get a refund.

But in 2016 something new happened. I got purchases from 5 guys who worked for the same company. That made sense, but before I finished preparing the letters, I got a transaction dispute. The cardholder, through their financial institution, reported that transaction as fraudulent. When I checked, the cardholder was in the USA, while the attendees were from Mali. I immediately refunded all 5 transactions. But wait, more transactions kept being flagged as fraudulent. They actually bought more than one ticket each. That was unnecessary, but reinforced my belief that they stole a bunch of credit cards to try and get in as many people as they can though conferences. I even checked the rejected purchases: I found dozens more. They got their hands on a database somewhere in the USA and just kept trying cards one by one to meet our invitation letter requirements.

Here is how it looks from my side: five people used stolen credit cards to try and commit immigration fraud. I made the decision to no longer provide invitation letters to attendees. It's too much work and risk for too little reward. Educating one or two extra people each year is nice, but letting such thieves (or worse) into my country isn't worth it. I'll still do it for speakers, since they have already been "interviewed".

Some of you are conference organizers. I won't tell you how to deal with invitation letter requests, but hopefully this will give you some insight and help you make a better decision.

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