Beware—another telephone scam is on the rise, and if you’re not careful, it could cost you.
The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) is warning taxpayers to watch out for scammers that call, impersonate official agents, and issue threats of court charges, jail time and even deportation for failure to pay a fake outstanding tax debt.
The caller then demands to be paid via some pretty unofficial means. For instance, they tend to ask the unsuspecting taxpayer to purchase prepaid credit cards and to stay on the phone with them to pass along the information. They may also request Western Union, MoneyGram or even your bank’s E-Transfer service.
“It’s a massive scam,” says Daniel Williams, a fraud specialist with the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre. In fact, it’s the biggest phone scam they’re currently dealing with. Out of the 300 or so complaints the Centre can handle daily, lately up to one-third have been regarding the phony CRA callers.
Williams says the amount of money that the fraudsters demand can be anywhere between $700 and $2,500. Authorities suspect that the criminals are scouring public online phone directories like Canada 411 to pick foreign-sounding names to target. The fraudsters are hoping their victims are recent immigrants that are less familiar with the practices of the CRA and therefore more likely to fall for their schemes.
The scammers can be very convincing if they capture your attention for a few minutes on the phone. They tell their victims that their taxes have been audited and they owe money. They assure their victims with ID numbers and case numbers to sound legitimate. And while the caller ID may display an Ottawa phone number, the scammers are usually using technology to “spoof” their actual location, which could further assuage the doubts of a gullible taxpayer.
Williams says that if you encounter what appears to be a CRA agent calling you for money, before you make any rash decisions, make sure to verify who exactly you’re talking to. Ask for a name, a case number and inform the caller that you will be contacting the Government of Canada for further information. If they balk, give you a bogus-sounding email or try to convince you to stay on the phone, be wary. A legitimate institution won’t mind if you get in touch by another means.
Another red flag, according to Williams, is if the caller has a sense of urgency. If they pressure you to act quickly or give you a deadline of a couple of hours to complete a payment, that’s a dead giveaway that something is up. “Real entities aren’t going to go out of business tomorrow,” he says. Scammers want to get their hands on your hard-earned money as soon as possible because they know that if you have a few moments to think and do a quick Google search or ask a friend, their jig is up.
Whereas these fraudsters try to strike fear in our law-abiding hearts, other scammers try to entice Canadians with the promise of extra benefits and refunds. These wily guys cast their net for victims via email rather than phone and wheedle out important personal information—including your SIN and bank details—under the guise of sending you more money, only to bleed you dry.
This scam is being sent to more people, since it’s a lot easier sending out a mass email than making personal phone calls. However, as Internet users become savvier, this type of ploy is attracting fewer victims than before. According to Williams, a red flag for this CRA scam is if the email starts with a generic “Dear Taxpayer,” which the real tax collector would never do. Alternatively, if your email address includes your name, these impostors may use that in the greeting instead, but watch out for bad spelling and grammar throughout the rest.
If you have received this call or email and have fallen for the ruse, Williams recommends immediately attempting to stop the transfer of money. Depending on how long it has been since the initial call, this may not be possible. Regardless of whether you can save your money, report the fraud to the police.
Here are some additional points to consider if you ever think you’re dealing with a scammer, taken from the CRA website.
- never requests prepaid credit cards;
- never asks for information about your passport, health card, or driver’s licence;
- never shares your taxpayer information with another person, unless you have provided the appropriate authorization; and
- never leaves personal information on your answering machine or asks you to leave a message containing your personal information on an answering machine.
When in doubt, ask yourself the following:
- Is there a reason that the CRA may be calling? Do I have a tax balance outstanding?
- Is the requester asking for information I would not include with my tax return?
- Is the requester asking for information I know the CRA already has on file for me?
- How did the requester get my email address or telephone number?
- Am I confident I know who is asking for the information?