Scams and frauds: Canadians are out of pocket to the tune of $405 million
by Agnes Chung
Canadians lost over $405 million to fraudsters from 2014 to 2017, according to the Competition Bureau Canada’s website. Canadians aged 60 to 79 accounted for an estimated $94 million loss to different scams over the four-year period.
Types of scams include phishing, emergency (grandparent) scam, wire fraud, romance and extortion scams such as the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) phone scam.
In a recent CBC News report, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said the “CRA phone scam is one of the largest cyber crimes in Canadian history” and the government is working with the authorities in India to cease the operations.
The scam often starts with an automated telephone message, or sometimes a live caller saying you owe CRA unpaid taxes, and demands a call back or face criminal charges or legal action.
“CRA takes the scams very seriously. We recognize the financial impact to people who fall victim to scammers. It’s deeply upsetting to be scammed,” says CRA spokesperson Gurm Kundan.
He adds that CRA is raising scam awareness through their website, social and traditional media, via community outreach events to engage and educate the public. They also partner with the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre and the RCMP to increase the fraud awareness campaign.
Warning signs of scams
Phone call: “If they are abusive or threatening to send the police, it’s not CRA. CRA wouldn’t threaten you with arrest. If they demand payment by bitcoin, pre-paid credit cards or gift cards, those are not acceptable payments via CRA. It’s a scam” says Kundan.
“Our emails don’t contain specific dollar amounts. CRA does not send text messages. If you get a text message, delete it, it’s a scam.”
Questions to ask oneself when in doubt, says Kundan, “Did I file my taxes on time? Have I received a letter of assessment or reassessment saying I owe tax? Is the caller asking questions or information that I wouldn’t give on my tax return?”
“Calling our general inquiry tax line at 1-800-959-8281 is the best way to verify your tax status and confirm the legitimacy of the contact that you received.”
Alternatively, register and log in to My Account, CRA’s secure online portal. Upon login, you can sign up for Account Alert – CRA’s fraud prevention service. My Account or the CRA’s mobile app is a great way for people to be aware of their tax situation and receive CRA emails, remarks Kundan.
If language is a barrier, assign a representative to speak on your behalf, says Kundan. He also mentions that they regularly reach out to tax preparers who are great resources.
“The best way for people to stop from being a victim is to know their tax situation and how the CRA communicates,” he says.
If in panic or unsure on what to do
Hang up! Never agree to any payment request. Don’t call back or redial phone numbers you don’t recognize. Do an online search on the phone number. Talk to a trusted person: your family member, a friend, a church elder or the ‘legitimate’ organization you do business with. Scammers do not discriminate. Everyone is a target regardless of age, income, ethnicity, education or intellect. Report identity theft and fraud to the police, especially if you have been a victim who has suffered financial loss or has received threats from the scammer.
Seniors tend to be more at risk as they may be more trusting, with some having the available funds to give away, says RCMP spokesperson, Cpl. Richard De Jong.
How do scammers find or trick you for personal credentials and financial details? You provide them on the phone, your email or enter a ‘fake’ contest or sweepstake. Details given include your date of birth, passwords, credit card, bank account and social insurance numbers. Your social media platforms are easy sources to harvest your personal data if they are exposed. Scammers can track your activities by pretending to be your friend.
They trick you by posing as tech support offering free computer fixes, repair technician providing home maintenance services. In romance scams, they play with your emotions or induce fear with the intent to extort money. Or they may offer you an irresistible money-making opportunity or shopping deals.
If they send you phishing emails that look legitimate, from trusted sources, like Google, Netflix, ITunes and Fedex, elete the email immediately. Do not open any link or attachment. They often contain malicious viruses or can execute hidden codes that take over your computer system.
Online auction, shopping and charity
With year-end approaching, request for charitable donations and holiday gift buying are in full swing. Online auction and shopping are great places to get deals. Beware of spoofed websites that appear genuine and often offer too good to be true prices.
Donors can be swayed to give on a whim especially after seeing distressful images on television or social media. Before donating, check the CRA website to find out if the charity is registered. Find out the people and organization behind the fundraising campaign.
Little Black Book of Scams – A free mini ‘encyclopedia’ on scamming activities and how to avoid them: www.competitionbureau.gc.ca/eic/site/cb-bc.nsf/eng/04333.html
Protect yourself against fraud: www.canada.ca/en/revenue-agency/corporate/security/protect-yourself-against-fraud.html
Who can ask for your SIN: www.canada.ca/en/employment-social-development/programs/sin/protect.html
Be a Savvy Senior: www.bcli.org/project/be-savvy