It’s tax filing – and tax scam – season (March 2019)

For many years now, there has been a persistent tax scam operating in Canada in which Canadians are contacted, usually by phone, by someone who falsely identifies himself or herself as being a representative of the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA). 

The taxpayer is told that money — sometimes a substantial amount of money — is owed to the government. The identifier for this particular scam is that the caller insists that the money owed must be paid immediately (usually by wire transfer or pre-paid credit card) and, if payment is not made right away, significant negative consequences will follow, including immediate arrest or seizure of assets, confiscation of the taxpayer’s Canadian passport, or deportation.

Of course, none of those consequences are remotely possible, even in circumstances where a legitimate tax debt is owed. However, the individuals or groups perpetrating this scam have, over the years, become both increasingly sophisticated — to the point of having a call display which shows the call as coming from the CRA — and increasingly successful, and many Canadians have suffered significant financial losses as a result.

To combat this, the CRA and other authorities have provided many warnings to taxpayers on how to avoid getting cheated, such that by now almost everyone has heard of this particular tax scam. However, there has also been an unintended result, as outlined by the CRA on its website:

Scammers posing as Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) employees continue to contact Canadians, misleading them into paying false debt. These persistent scammers have created fear among people who now automatically assume that any communication from someone representing the CRA is not genuine.”

As we move into tax filing season, it is more likely that the CRA will be in touch with taxpayers for legitimate reasons. This poses two potential problems. First, there is likely to be an increase in the activity of tax scammers, who are relying on the fact that taxpayers are more likely to expect contact from the CRA during tax filing season. Second, the tax administration process can’t function efficiently if taxpayers don’t respond to legitimate communications from the CRA out of fear that such communications are just in furtherance of another tax scam.

To address this problem, the CRA has provided comprehensive information on the methods by which it does and does not contact taxpayers, and what it will and will not ask for in communications with taxpayers. That information, which is posted on the CRA website, is as follows.

Phone

The CRA may

  • verify your identity by asking for personal information such as your full name, date of birth, address, account number, or social insurance number
  • ask for details about your account, in the case of a business enquiry
  • call you to begin an audit process

The CRA will never

  • ask for information about your passport, health card, or driver’s license
  • demand immediate payment by Interac e-transfer, bitcoin, prepaid credit cards, or gift cards from retailers such as iTunes, Amazon, or others
  • use aggressive language or threaten you with arrest or sending the police
  • leave voicemails that are threatening or give personal or financial information

Email

The CRA may

  • notify you by email when a new message or a document, such as a notice of assessment or reassessment, is available for you to view in secure CRA portals such as My Account, My Business Account, or Represent a Client
  • email you a link to a CRA webpage, form, or publication that you ask for during a telephone call or a meeting with an agent (this is the only case where the CRA will send an email containing links)

The CRA will never

  • give or ask for personal or financial information by email and ask you to click on a link
  • email you a link asking you to fill in an online form with personal or financial details
  • send you an email with a link to your refund
  • demand immediate payment by Interac e-transfer, bitcoin, prepaid credit cards, or gift cards from retailers such as iTunes, Amazon, or others
  • threaten you with arrest or a prison sentence

Mail

The CRA may

  • ask for financial information such as the name of your bank and its location
  • send you a notice of assessment or reassessment
  • ask you to pay an amount you owe through any of the CRA’s payment options
  • take legal action to recover the money you owe, if you refuse to pay your debt
  • write to you to begin an audit process

The CRA will never

  • set up a meeting with you in a public place to take a payment
  • demand immediate payment by Interac e-transfer, bitcoin, prepaid credit cards, or gift cards from retailers such as iTunes, Amazon, or others
  • threaten you with arrest or a prison sentence

Text messages/instant messaging

The CRA never uses text messages or instant messaging such as Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp to communicate with taxpayers under any circumstance. If a taxpayer receives text or instant messages claiming to be from the CRA, they are scams!

Fraud isn’t new, and it isn’t going away any time soon. However, the speed and anonymity of electronic communication and the extent to which most people are now comfortable transacting their tax and financial affairs online or over the phone makes it easier in many ways for fraud artists to succeed. The best defence against becoming a victim of such scams is a healthy degree of caution, even skepticism, and a refusal to provide any personal or financial information, whether by phone, e-mail, text, or online, without first verifying the legitimacy of the request. The CRA suggests that anyone who is contacted by phone by someone claiming to be a CRA employee take the following steps:

  • Ask for or make a note of the caller’s name, phone number, and office location and tell them that you want to first verify their identity.
  • Check that the employee calling you about your taxes works for the CRA or that the CRA did contact you by calling 1-800-959-8281 for individuals or 1-800-959-5525 for businesses. If the call you received was about a government program such as Student Loans or Employment Insurance, call 1-866-864-5823.

The information presented is only of a general nature, may omit many details and special rules, is current only as of its published date, and accordingly cannot be regarded as legal or tax advice. Please contact our office for more information on this subject and how it pertains to your specific tax or financial situation.
 

Posted: Monday, March 18th, 2019 | Categories: Tax Alerts.

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