Tax season is here, and Canadians are gathering paperwork for their annual go-round with the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA). Scammers know this, which is why the period from February to April each year sees an uptick in the number of scams and mail thefts relating to income taxes and the CRA.
A husband and wife in Brampton, Ontario have been charged with fraud, money laundering, and property offences connected with a global telemarketing scam in which victims were threatened with arrest by the CRA unless they paid amounts said to be owing. Police seized $26,000 in cash and $114,000 in jewellery from the couple’s home.
The prosecution of Canadians involved in the scheme is the first of its kind in this country. Police in other countries have also dealt serious blows to the scheme’s masterminds in India, with whom the Brampton couple are alleged to have been working.
Despite growing awareness of the scheme, however, Canadians continue to fall victim. The RCMP estimate that more than $17 million has been taken from people in this country over the past five years, and even if they report the scam, victims are unlikely to recover their money.
The scam starts with an automated call claiming to be from the CRA, which claims that the victim has an outstanding tax bill, and faces immediate arrest or deportation if it is not paid. If the call is returned, or a certain number button is pushed, an actual person answers, who advises on what forms of payment are accepted and how to pay.
The Brampton couple are alleged to have been “mules” or go-betweens, who collected payment from people in Canada, took a cut of the money, and forwarded the rest to scammers based in India.
With tax time being a confusing and stressful one for many, it’s often easy for people to fall victim to scammers, whether it’s a person claiming to be from the CRA or someone using mail theft to obtain information about you . However, there are a number of steps you can take to protect yourself and your personal data.
First of all, know that the CRA will never phone you and be aggressive or threatening, or tell you that you face arrest or deportation. If you receive a call from someone claiming to be from the CRA, hang up and do not call back, even if they have legitimate-sounding “facts” and file numbers. In many cases, they do not even know your name until you give it to them.
Be suspicious if a caller who says they are from the CRA threatens you, tells you that you will be deported, sends you follow-up text messages or emails, or suggests you pay via gift card or cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin. If you have doubts about the status of your tax bill, go to the CRA website and contact them directly.
Mail thieves take a more hands-on approach to obtain your personal information, from intercepting your mail to going through your garbage to retrieve sensitive documents. With the information they glean they can apply for credit cards or bank accounts in your name, then start piling up debts that you might not find out about until collection agencies start to call.
To reduce the risk of falling victim to mail theft, make sure that you collect your mail regularly (preferably daily). If you are going to be away for any length of time, have a friend or a trusted neighbour collect your mail for you and keep it in a safe place until you return.
If you change your address, make sure to notify any business or organization you have accounts with, from Telus and BC Hydro to Amazon and Netflix. Before recycling, shred any documents that have personal information. If you see suspicious activity around mailboxes, notify the police.