It’s tax season in Canada and while taxpayers hurry to get their papers in order, scammers step up their activities too. They prey on people’s fears, uncertainty and lack of knowledge.
According to the Better Business Bureau, tax scammers contact thousands of Canadians daily. In 2017, reported losses were more than $5 million.
Hastings Sunrise resident Sharon Mohamed nearly fell victim to tax scammers in December 2017. One day she received a phone call from an unknown and suspiciously long number. “A male voice started threatening me right away,” Sharon recalls. “He told me I owe $2,000 in unpaid taxes and have just 24 hours to pay the debt. He repeatedly told me not to hang up and said that if I do hang the phone, I would need a lawyer to deal with this problem.”
Sharon panicked for a minute, then started thinking. She knew she had no unpaid taxes. The phone number looked suspicious. But it was the method of payment suggested by the callers that convinced Sharon it was a fraud. “They told me I need to make an Interac money transfer and I knew that the CRA does not accept that,” Sharon says.
Interac e-transfers, prepaid cards or iTunes cards remain the most popular methods of stealing money used by fraudsters. This year, however, they started asking for Bitcoin payments. And as people are becoming more aware of this type of fraud, scammers are getting more resourceful and creative. For example, in 2017 they “spoofed” the Vancouver Police Department’s non-emergency line, pretending to be representatives of the Canada Revenue Agency.
Fraudsters manipulated phones to display the VPD non-emergency number, 604-717-3321, and started calling Vancouver area residents demanding payment of “tax debts”. The VPD was notified and put an end to that scam; however, often fraudsters are based outside Canada and cannot be reached by our law enforcement agencies.
The best advice given by police and the Canada Revenue Agency is: try not to become a victim. The CRA website teaches taxpayers how to recognize a scam and avoid falling into a trap.
The CRA also urges taxpayers to confirm the status of their accounts on receiving suspicious calls or emails, and to verify the legitimacy of the communication by contacting the agency directly at 1-800-959-8281.
■ Olga Shaporenko