When the Canada Revenue Agency calls, be cautious
My phone rarely rings, so when it does, I jump. But this call left me leaping outta my skin.
It was a robocall from the so-called Canada Revenue Agency, claiming to have a criminal case against me for tax fraud. The harsh, automated voice advised me to call back as soon as possible for this “extremely serious and time sensitive” matter or I’d face legal consequences.
I’d heard of the CRA phone scam, but I never expected to feel serious panic from it. The con is good: the scammer’s phone number was “spoofed” to display a CRA caller ID, and I felt serious stress to urgently call back.
In reality, my taxes are paid in full and I know the CRA doesn’t collect taxes via robocalls or the other methods this scam operates under — SMS text messages seeking money, online forms offering tax refunds, emails requesting Interac e-transfers, and fraudulent Government of Canada letters delivered by post.
All of these scams are a form of phishing, a fraudulent attempt to get your personal or financial information by impersonating a known entity, such as a bank, business or government branch.
Using data collected from the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC), the Better Business Bureau (BBB) found that CRA income tax scams alone cost Canadians more than $5 million in 2017, and other variants of phishing and wire fraud topped their scam list with losses over $20 million.
Think you could identify a scammer masquerading as an organization or “brand spoofing” a company? Think again. A study by debit payment company Interac found a quarter of Canadians say they have clicked on a link that resulted in a phishing scam, while 64 per cent of respondents say they have felt tempted to click on a link they believed could be unsafe.
With scammers coming at you by email, over the phone, through social media channels, and even in SMS text messages, it’s important to be cautious. Here’s how to identify financial fraud and steps to take if you’ve given personal information to a suspected fraudster.
Be suspicious. A reputable organization should never ask for your personal information through email or text. If you receive a letter, email, SMS or call requesting personal data or money, get in touch with the institution directly to confirm if they’ve been contacting you. Never use the email links or callback numbers provided in the suspect message; only use contact information found directly on official websites.
Beware a sense of urgency. My CRA phishing call had many red flags, but the biggest was the threat of dire consequences if I didn’t respond and send money right away. Financial scams often use urgent and threatening language to get you to respond immediately. Don’t. The scammer’s goal is to catch you off guard and make you act based on fear instead of rational thought.
Red flags to watch for. Spelling mistakes, deals that seem too good to be true, wire transfer requests, and payment through Bitcoin or Apple iTunes cards are all red flags that should set off scam alarms. The same goes for generic messages starting with “Dear Customer” when the institution should clearly know who you are.
When you receive a phishing message, report the incident to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, and the institution being impersonated, to help organizations track fraudsters across the country. Always delete scam messages to avoid accidentally clicking a link or replying to an email.
If you suspect you may be the victim of fraud or have been tricked into giving personal or financial information, contact your financial institution to report the issue, change any compromised passwords, and contact the credit reporting bureaus Equifax and TransUnion to place fraud alerts on your accounts. The CAFC also advises you report any fraud to your local police.
Don’t ever feel alone or embarrassed by being a victim of fraud. The BBB cites total losses for Canadians at $100 million to scammers — and that was just last year. With fewer than 5 per cent of victims reporting the crime, the number is likely much higher.
Kerry K. Taylor is a Toronto-based writer and a freelance contributor for the Star. Reach her at