Well, actually, the scam was first reported by CBC more than a year ago and yet Canadians are still “getting duped” by the website disguised as an official government portal.
The website called Passport Online (PO) provides “application services” (their words) that assist Canadians with something that the Canadian government offers online, for free. PO is “the equivalent of sitting with someone and telling them the details to fill in the federal government passport application.”
Visiting their website now, it seems that a new banner has been placed on the homepage reading “Passportonline.ca is not affiliated with the government.” We have learned that this disclaimer was only apparent after a victim had paid for their services.
PO has been a top Google result when searching for terms like “renew Canadian passport online.” Dozens of people have contacted CBC with similar stories about the shady website.
“They shared concerns over giving personal details to a private company, sending their passports to a non-government agency, identity theft, the cost of the service and the fight for refunds.”
Credit card information and identification photos were some of the common things released to the website that had a blue and white screen and Canadian flag in the corner, just like the official Canada.ca. The site has now seen a redesign in the wake of the scandal. The amount patrons would pay for PO’s services was comparable to the fees for passport renewal, plus additional "services" that can send the charges into the thousands.
An immigration and citizen minister, Ahmed Hussen, explained that the government “of course, care[s] and [are] on guard every single day for the integrity of our citizenship system… From time to time we do find individuals who commit immigration fraud, citizenship fraud, to try to take advantage of people.”
A former employee of PO is “sounding the alarm” about their former workplace. They reveal that they were taught to prey on Canadians who “overpay” for the service, warning that Passport Online and “Pardons and Waivers of Canada” have the same owner and share similar sales goals.
“The businesses operate at 515 Consumers Rd., Toronto. Employees there fill out applications for Canadian passports or applications for convicted criminals seeking pardons or waivers so they can travel to the United States despite their record.”
CBC reports that the companies charge $100 to $1,000 per application. When they approached the employer for an interview at the Consumers Rd. site, all employees were locked inside by management and “wouldn’t let [them] leave even for a bathroom break for fear [they] would talk.”
The company’s owner? Jesse Breslin. His sister, Stephanie was apparently the person who told staff they couldn’t leave the office that day.
The employee recalls being “trained to lie, manipulate and ‘qualify’ people as to how much money they make and price accordingly.’
Out of those people who emailed CBC about the situation, more than a dozen discussed how hundreds of dollars got pulled from their accounts after sharing their financial details with Passport Online. They were under the impression, at the time, that they were dealing with the federal government’s website.
One victim, 71 years old, said the website shouldn’t have looked like the federal government’s website. When he got his statement, he was charged double what it would have been for the regular passport application.
Another victim who calls herself “computer savvy” was still unaware that the website was not government affiliated until a disclaimer showed up after her card information was logged. Her attempts to get a refund were futile.
“Only those who repeatedly called the 1-888 number on the website and filed complaints with the Better Business Bureau received partial or full refunds. “
The company insider explained that PO would still accept clients who had no chance of getting a passport due to ineligibility and squeeze more money out of them through “eligibility consultation[s].”
The ineligible paid because they were fed a dream that they would eventually be helped. Some were told the process could take years to complete at a cost of up to $3,500 while the real pardon application takes 30 minutes to an hour to finish.