While con artists have always existed, advanced technology has led to more sophisticated scams, including ones where perpetrators claim to be the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA). This particular scam is especially prevalent during income tax season and, while seniors may appear most vulnerable, nobody is immune from being swindled.
Innocent people being targeted must recognize and avoid such scams, or face the prospect of being defrauded. Unsuspecting victims may be swindled of money, have their financial details exposed, or identities stolen. Fortunately, the CRA is concerned about this fraudulent activity and is alerting and educating the public about these scams.
How a scam typically works
Whether the fraudulent communication is by phone, email, regular mail, or text message, the con artists take a similar approach. In short, they threaten their victims by falsely claiming that a debt is owing to the CRA. If the victim fails to pay this supposed debt, they’re warned that they could be fined, imprisoned, deported, or subject to some other unwanted consequence.
Along the way, the con artist will pressure the flustered (and often frightened) victim into providing highly personal information, such as specific details about their bank accounts and credit cards, as well as government-issued identifiers like their social insurance number, passport number or business number. Victims may also be asked to disclose their home address, phone number, financial institutions with which they conduct business, etc.
In addition to making threats about outstanding debts, con artists may take the opposite approach and claim the victim is due some fabricated tax refund or social benefit payment, and the CRA merely needs to confirm the taxpayer’s personal details and account information before securely releasing the funds to them. The taxpayer may even be directed to a fake CRA website to submit their personal information. With today’s sophisticated technology, this fake site may look authentic, but it’s extremely dangerous to visit a fraudulent site or click on any of the links.
What to watch for
Of course, people should be vigilant about responding to any of these fraudulent CRA communications, but how do you know when you’re being scammed?
First of all, the CRA never threatens taxpayers or uses coercive, high-pressure tactics. If you are being intimidated into complying with demands, then you’re dealing with a con artist.
The Government of Canada1 provides specific actions to watch for that can help determine when you’re being approached by a fraudster and not a legitimate CRA employee.
Be assured that the CRA will never:
- use aggressive language or threaten you with arrest or sending the police
- leave intimidating or threatening voicemail messages
- give or ask for personal or financial information by email and ask you to click on a link
- email you a link asking you to fill in an online form with personal or financial details
- send you an email with a link to your tax refund
- insist that payments be made via e-transfer, cryptocurrency like bitcoin, prepaid credit cards, gift cards from retailers, etc.
- set up a meeting with you in a public place to take a payment
- Please also note that the CRA never uses text messages or instant messaging to communicate with taxpayers about tax-related issues, so such messages are a scam.
At all times, guard your personal and financial information, and don’t be pressured into revealing any details. When in doubt, many people consult first with a trusted family member, friend or financial advisor. Refrain from providing confidential information and contact the CRA directly to confirm the legitimacy of the request. Also be careful with protecting your various user names, passwords, and ID cards, and follow general best practices for storing and disposing of paper and electronic documents that contain identifiable information.
To report a scam, contact the Canadian Anti-fraud Centre. If you believe you may have been victimized by a con artist and were fooled into disclosing confidential information, contact your local police.