The Better Business Bureau (BBB) serving Mainland B.C. has not yet released its list of the Top 10 scams of 2018, but Karla Davis, manager of community and public relations for the BBB serving Mainland B.C., says she would not be surprised to see the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) scam make the list once more (it was number six in 2017). And as British Columbians head into the heart of tax season, they should brace not only for the scam to ramp up, but for scammers to become more sophisticated.
“The scammers get more creative every year,” says Davos. “We’ve seen letters that look like they could be from the CRA, but the phone numbers don’t register.
“One woman who contacted us said that she received a letter supposedly from the CRA, and the only thing that made her realize it was a scam was that it was in black-and-white. She had had letters from the CRA in the past, and they were in colour.”
She notes that scammers have also jumped on the recent speculation tax announced by the B.C. provincial government.
“Scammers are very creative, and they pay attention. They watch the news like everyone else, and they do their homework. And they try to strategize around our warnings. It’s a business for them, and they want to stay ahead of the competition.”
In one instance, documents with the CRA logo were sent via mail to an individual, requesting that they provide relevant tax information needed to process a refund.
The package included a partially completed form with the correct name and address for the individual, and requested that they provide their Social Insurance Number (SIN) and date of birth. It also came with a self-addressed and stamped envelope to return the completed documents.
“Access to information that allows someone to assume your identity and control your tax account offers lucrative opportunities for scammers,” says Davis. “Your name, address, and SIN are crucial details that cybercriminals can monetize; that is, they can use it to access loans, apply for employment, or even file tax returns in your name and collect your refund.”
There are three groups of people who may be primary targets for scammers: new immigrants, seniors, and millennials. New immigrants are most vulnerable because they are often the least informed about how the Canadian government contacts and interacts with citizens.
Seniors are also primary targets because they are the least aware of new technological developments, and they may not be as informed about accepted communication and payment methods. Additionally, being in retirement may trigger a greater sense of financial insecurity, which makes them more susceptible to threatening phone calls and other aggressive advances for money from scammers.
Although millennials are most informed, they also get caught in scams because of overconfidence, which makes them less likely to do their due diligence and thoroughly read through documents. For instance, while they may be able to quickly identify that text messages and phone calls from the CRA are a scam, they may miss the signs of a scam in a lengthy email or a letter in the mail because they simply accept the document at face value and fail to read and examine it thoroughly. Davis explains that “Because we live in a fast-paced world, the idea of instant transactions, receiving emails with links, and just a few clicks to get things done fit right into a millennial’s comfort zone, making them vulnerable to the scam.”
The CRA scam warning comes not long after the BBB serving Mainland B.C. issued its list of the Top 10 Consumer Complaints about Businesses and the Top Business Categories for Consumer Inquiries for 2018. Davis says that she likes to think the numbers remain fairly constant from one year to the next, but adds that inquiries about businesses tend to be seasonal. “Right now we’re getting a lot of inquiries about heating contractors.
“We’ve also seen an increase in the number of inquiries about car maintenance. In the cold weather people can have issues with their vehicles.”
Davis says there are complaints that the BBC cannot assist with, such as someone complaining that a business will not take something back as a refund 35 days after purchase, when the terms and conditions indicate there are no refunds, or state that the time limit for claiming a refund is 30 days after purchase.
“There are also instances where a business is not being insincere, but they need to make their terms and conditions more clear or more visible,” notes Davis, citing a case where a business had a sign stating “no refunds” but that it was obscured by something and not clearly visible to customers.
She says that some of the “sales practices” complaints are a result of aggressive sales strategies, such as flooding people with emails or turning up on their doorstep. She also mentions the “moving scam”, where people who are probably reps from a moving firm call people and claim to be from BBB Vancouver.
“They’ll ask people if they’re moving, and if you say ‘Yes, later this year’ they’ll make a note in their files and their moving company will call you back closer to the time to try to secure you as a client. They have that information about you, and you’re wondering how they got it.”
The Top 10 Consumer Complaints about Businesses for 2018 received by the BBB serving Mainland B.C. were Billing and Collection (590 complaints); Customer Service (549); Service Execution (474); Refunds and Exchanges (466); Sales Practices (309); Delivery Issues (306); Contracts (283); Product Issues (255); Repairs (193); and Guarantees and Warranties (145).
The Top Business Categories for Consumer Inquiries in 2018 were Roofing Contractors; Plumbers; Home Improvement; Moving Companies; Loans; General Contractors; Used Car Dealers; Consumer Finance Companies; Heating Contractors; and Painting Contractors.