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Beware of scams

Income tax time is here again; and so is the Canada Revenue Agebcy scam. Again.

The Vernal Equinox is still ten days away, but already the unmistakable signs of spring are in the air. The robins have returned and are building their nests; the street sweeper has been out cleaning grit from the roads (so another heavy snowfall is surely imminent; don’t put your snow shovels away just yet); bushes are being pruned and trees cut back; gardeners are tending to their seedlings; and scam artists are once again trying to defraud people of money.

Yes, spring and income tax season mean that fraud artists are out in full force, preying on the innocent to make a fast buck. The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) scam is doing the rounds once more, its agents hoping that the mere utterance of the words “Canada Revenue Agency” will frighten people into giving up valuable personal information and/or money.

The scam began in 2013, and has shown no signs of abating; the author has had at least three such calls in the last month. The phone calls begin pleasantly enough, with the friendly caller identifying himself as being employed by the CRA. This friendliness should be a tip-off that something’s wrong; anyone who has ever had dealings with the “real” CRA will know that being friendly is not something that’s in their wheelhouse (businesslike bordering on curt is more the order of the day).

However, the phone call rapidly goes beyond pleasantries. The victim is informed that he or she is in trouble with the CRA; they have neglected to file taxes, or have made an error on their tax return. The bottom line is always that money—often a substantial amount—is owed, with the caller asking for bank or credit card details to settle the “debt”.

Any attempt by the recipient of the call to dispute the charge is met with threats: the police will be called, or jail time might be the result, or a social insurance number might be blacklisted, or CRA agents might show up at the victim’s door (which sounds like one of the least-threatening threats ever: “I’m Bill from the CRA, and this is my friend Stephanie, and you really don’t want to make us mad.”). Still, a surprising number of people have been gulled into believing the calls are genuine, and have lost substantial sums of money as a result.

The Canada Revenue Agency rarely phones people if they are in arrears, or if there is a problem with a return; they send very official-looking letters. The CRA will not ask you to give them a credit card or bank account number to settle a debt; terms of repayment (if that is necessary) will be negotiated with you. In the rare case that the CRA has occasion to phone people, they will act with professionalism and courtesy; no threats will be used.

So if you receive one of these scam calls, do what the author does; hang up as soon as the magic words “Canada Revenue Agency” are uttered. Your bank account will thank you.