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Selling hope to the unwitting

He once ran an immigration ‘lottery.’ Now he’s back with a green-card program. We don’t have those, either.


 

Carlos Barria / Reuters

The federal government is about to announce new legislation aimed at cracking down—yet again—on fraudulent, fly-by-night immigration consultants. The details are still secret, but in a recent speech to a gathering of lawyers, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said Ottawa is serious about cleaning up the racket once and for all, and assured his audience that tougher rules are imminent.
In the meantime, people all over the world will keep sending cash to Ehab Lotfi—hoping to “win” their way into Canada.

As Maclean’s readers may remember, Lotfi was the proud founder of the “Canadian Immigration Lottery,” a slick website that, minus the fine print, made it seem as though Canada actually operates an immigration lottery. We don’t, of course. What Lotfi’s Montreal company was really doing was charging wannabe newcomers $115 a pop for the chance to win an all-expenses paid visa application. Thousands signed up. Hundreds “won.” Profits were made.

At the time, Lotfi insisted that his site was an innocent “marketing tool,” and not a scam to trick the naive and the desperate into thinking they could really win a spot in Canada. But when industry regulators launched an investigation, Lotfi opted for a name change. The Canadian Immigration Lottery became CIFA (Canadian Immigration Financial Assistance).

Today, the controversial website is called something else: canadagreencard.org.

The problem? Canada doesn’t give out green cards. America does. But that hasn’t stopped Lotfi and his associates from reeling in the contestants. “At Canada Green Card, we believe that dreams do come true,” the website says. “Never stop dreaming.”

The concept is exactly the same as the original lottery. Applicants pay $115 to Lotfi’s firm, Canadian Immigration House (CIH), to be entered into a random daily draw. Winners receive a professionally crafted visa application, a service that typically costs around $2,000. Losers receive nothing—except the fuzzy feeling of knowing that their entry fees helped cover the winners’ prizes.

Back in 2006, Lotfi admitted the obvious: that he was also pocketing a cut. (“I’m running a business,” he said. “It’s not a one-way business.”) But now that his creation is called the Canada Green Card program, he insists he is losing money—and quite happily. “I am helping these people, and I don’t care what you think about it, what other people think about it, what you write, what you don’t write,” he said. “My clients love me and my clients believe in me.”

The Canadian Society of Immigration Consultants (CSIC) does not believe him. The organization, which regulates the profession across the country, revoked his membership in January. “Many individuals are seeking anything they can to try to establish a foothold in Canada,” says Nigel Thomson, the CSIC’s chair. “You can say that people are gullible and they should know better, but when you’re desperate you search out whatever means you can.”

Lotfi has hired a lawyer and is promising to take the CSIC to court, arguing that the organization doesn’t have the legal authority to blacklist him. He also denies any suggestion that someone on the other side of the world might stumble across the new website and assume that it’s a raffle for genuine green cards. “If people are applying for immigration, they are educated, and when they read the website exactly they will understand there is no green card,” he said. “I think it’s well-explained.”

Lotfi is so confident in the credibility of his “charity” work that he agreed to pose for a picture—until the Maclean’s photographer actually showed up at his office. Lotfi phoned the police instead.


 
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Selling hope to the unwitting

  1. The funniest part of his website is a photo of New York in a banner headline on the homepage.

  2. This is why it's legitimate for countries to have black ops and covert action squads.

    Stop mucking around with legal enforcement for a guy who's beyond the law. Pay a Ukrainian hacker to take out his website, and dump the pictures of him and his half-goat, half-man lover around the world already.

    • hey, are you from ukraine?

  3. "Immigration to Canada is granted for winners and their family members."

    Yeah, that's the line that causes the problem. Your fees required to apply for membership come with winning the green card membership. You do NOT however get actual immigration status.

    Also he says he's still a member of the CSIC.

    Ultimately the people most likely to use this site are not going to be educated in english or the nuances of Canadian Law enough to understand that they're being conned. Otherwise they wouldn't need help from an immigration lawyer. They should try him for violating Canadian immigration law for every single person who actually signed up. And then sentence him to consecutive sentences, that should guarantee that the rest of us never have to deal with him again.

  4. The government are going to crack down on fraudulent, fly-by-night immigration consultants. But is there a legitimate reason for this kind of business at all? Surely informing applicants of the rules is the job of our bureaucrats.

    Increasingly wondering what on earth this government actually does.

  5. If the government "is serious about cleaning up the racket once and for all", they might want to look at one of their own. The first immigration consultant to be disciplined by the CSIC was Yolanda Simao. If you read the CSIC discipline file on Ms. Simao, you will discover that she was not the person originally expected to find truck driving jobs for a group of Korean immigrants who had each paid several thousand dollars to an overseas firm, ULSC Immigration Consulting. That person was a Barrie lawyer, Patrick W. Brown. Mr. Brown is now the Member of Parliament for Barrie. Ms. Simao was disciplined by the CSIC, but Mr. Brown seems to have escaped responsibility for his role in the scheme.

    • Dear Robert,
      I am Yolanda Simao, and I wish to thank you for putting it out there that I had nothing to do with recruiting these people and that Patrick Brown's picture was in the brochure given to the "truck drivers". I am in litigation of suing the Korea Times and as I cannot write a long comment, perhaps you can reply to my e-mail and I will explain in more detail of what has occurred to date. Any assistance of knowledge or insight you can shed, if anything, would be great appreciated.

      • Yolanda,
        Forgive me for not replying sooner. I just found your message now. Since you did not leave your email address, I can only reply here. I'm not sure what knowledge or insight I might offer to you, but at least I can offer you my sympathy. You seem to have been left to pick-up after someone who was not governed by the same rules as you were. Since Brown is a lawyer, he is regulated by the Law Society of Upper Canada. I'm not sure what help the Law Society might offer you, but their website is at http://www.lsuc.on.ca . I wrote to Nicholas Keung, one of the Toronto Star reporters who covered this story and asked him why Brown was not mentioned in any of The Star's articles. Here is Keung's reply:

        "Thanks for the email. We actually looked into Mr. Brown's connection to the scheme during the initial investigation, but there was no paper trail and he really didn't deliver much for the Korean recruiter. The bulk of the work in Canada was done by Ms. Simao. That's why we ended it there.

        As a result, we haven't mentioned that in any of our stories because that wasn't the focus of the investigation."

  6. There is a new scam with a Vancouver firm selling AEO's for $15000 to potential immigrants who don't meet the required points. I hope someone will cover this story.

  7. CSIC is a useless, corrupting and inevitably corrupt organization that serves no useful purpose and exists to legitimize the ethically challenged who feed on the vulnerable and desperate who have no recourse against predation. When you do a deal with devil, the devil always wins, and CSIC was known and accepted from the beginning to be a compromise with evil.

  8. may i know if GLOBAL VISAS is a certified immigration representatives? they have branches in London, South Africa and Philippines and other countries. I this no a scam?

    • Like all companies, maybe they have a certified rep on their payroll but this does NOT mean that the certified person is the one reviewing the client information or giving advice. It appears that the lower-paid admin staff most often does this independently, which is defintely not how it should go. Just because a certified rep occupies a seat in the office does not mean that clients are getting personal service from that person. insist on speaking directly to the certified rep, get his/her email address and cc them on every communication about your case – and do NOT take advice from "case managers" in any immigration company without confirming it with the certified rep first.

  9. plz can any one give me a genuine way of obtaining Canadian visa…to live and work in Canada as a Nigerian young graduate with Bsc in psychology and 27years of age.you can reply via charlesmailz@yahoo.com. that's my yahoo id

    • sorry but i have to be honest…in view of all this heard and done no matter what, rules and regulations are… no one believes anything said by Nigerians therefore your application no matter how well put and good looking will be denied( highly possible) ..especially if you have been honest most Nigerians who get accepted anywhere have lied about their nationality for the reason that no one trusts a Nigerian even when they tell the truth….Just my 2 cents

  10. hi to all im umair munawar from pakistan anybody help me i need canadagreencard i love canada plz help me

    • There is no such thing as a Canada Green Card. Don't believe this agency. They just want your money and then you'll realize that you Los the "lottery. Better luck next time".

  11. This guy is a scam artist. It mightnhave been a decent business plan if he was upfront with his clients. If the whole help to finance the winner's application expenses then the winner really does win something.

    But this is just a fraud trying to confuse people into thinking that they will win immigration to Canada. These poor under privileged people are being preyed upon by this opportunistic company and it's owner Mr. Ehab Lotfi.

    And to think that this has been going on since 2004 and he still hasn't changed his marketing tactics. He's laughing at our rules and regulations and is daring anybody to do anything about it. At the very least it's morally reprehensible.

    Where is the CSB crackdown on fraudulent immigration consultants that we've been hearing so much about? This guy is giving this country a bad name.

    Wen they investigate he changes the name of the company, along with the official owner of the company and then continues to operate. This is standard characteristics of a cir inal enterprise. Discusting.

    • I agree. This smells like a criminal enterprise. Any honest person would have implemented full transparency on his marketing material once he realized that there was a misunderstanding in the perception of what he is selling. Instead what does he do? He changes companies the moment he is under investigation. And then he defends his actions.

      Seven years later he's still at it with the same ambiguous and misleading announcements on his we site but under a different company and with the joke that it's a non-profit organization.

      What non-profit organization is going to be so ambiguous in what they are offering? Western Union payments to his personal name? Maybe that's why it's a non-profit.

      The only way to stop this guy from obeying on the less fortunate is to drag his butt in court. Let him defend himself against the criminal charges that he so deserves.

      Canada needs to implement a strict immigration system. These fraudulent Immigration Consultants can't do anything for anybody more than what they can do themselves by contacting their nearest Canadian Embassy. It's all there for the taking and Immigration Canada is not swayed by an application submitted by a consultant. it does not make a difference for them.

      This is just a big cash grab that has to stop. And if someone's situation really is more complicated then they should just hire a lawyer who really knows the rules and understands the laws.

      These fraudulent consultants open an office (which could be in their homes for all anybody knows), advertise a little bit and reel in the poor suckers with a vision of dreams that they're going to turn into reality.

      Once the poor souls realize that they've been swindled they can't do anything about it. Who are they going to run after? Some shady person in another country that they can't even get a Visa to visit?

      • It would be interesting if someone would look into the public records on this guy. Go to this site: http://www.canlii.org/.

        He is a CGA yet he’s gone bankrupt twice. Several pages of links with different lawsuits.

        He’s also connected with some very shady companies that have had some major civil and criminal issues.

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