Brace yourselves for more spam calls. Tax season is prime time for scammers
TORONTO -- Canadians who have grown tired of unsolicited emails and phone calls from scammers claiming they owe money to federal agencies will have their patience tested this tax season.
The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC) is expecting to see a surge in these scams between March and April, when cybercriminals tend to prey on consumers who are more likely to fall for scams that ask for their personal informationduring tax season.
According to numbers provided to CTVNews.ca, 470 Canadians lost more than $1.4 million to these scams last year alone.
Another 3,210 complaints of scammers posing as the tax agency were reported to the CAFC in 2019, but the CAFC notes that thousands more go unreported.
Jeff Thompson, a senior RCMP intelligence agent working for the CAFC, says that scams that mention the CRA are just the tip of the iceberg.
“There’s the telephone CRA scam that we continue to get reports about, but we’ve seen a huge shift with [scammers] claiming to be Service Canada reporting fraud on your SIN number,” Thompson told CTVNews.ca in a telephone interview.
Thompson said CRA-related scams often involve phishing campaigns sent by email or text message, many with the promise of a tax return in the form of an e-transfer -- something the CRA says it will never do.
But despite increased effort by Canadians authorities and government officials to crack down on these types of scams, including a large scale bust involving more than 40 illegal call centres in India last March, experts fear the market for fraud outpaces authoritative efforts.
“It is a little bit like a drop of a bucket -- a game of whack-a-mole. You take out one group and another pops up,” Avner Levin, director of Ryerson University’s Privacy and Cybercrime Institute, told CTVNews.ca in a telephone interview.
“All they need is a handful of successful scams to make money. And if you’re talking about sending out an email or a text message the costs are negligible.”
Avner says some relief may come from more stringent requirements placed on telecom providers by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), including call-blocking technology that prevents some “spoofed” numbers from reaching Canadians customers.
“This isn’t an issue you can solve on your own by blocking calls on your own device. You need the telecom companies to get involved and do their part,” Avner said.
Meanwhile, as scammers ramp up for busy season, Avner’s best piece of advice is simple: don’t answer your phoneif you don’t recognize the number.
“The scam is in the social context… the person gets on the phone and intimidates you, stresses you out, convinces you to do things you wouldn’t do,” he said.
“You’ve got to find ways to disengage and disconnect. The more you stay on the line and have a conversation with them, even if you think you’re impervious to this, they will chip away at it.”
In a statement to CTVNews.ca, a CRA spokesperson said education is key when it comes to protecting Canadians from these types of scams.
The CRA says it will never:
- Use aggressive language or threaten to arrest or deport you .
- Ask for prepaid credit cards or gift cards.
- Collect or distribute payment through e-transfers or bitcoins.
- Send an email with a link that asks you to divulge personal or financial information, unless you have called the CRA to ask for a form or a link for information. In this case, a CRA agent would send you an email during the call with that information.
The CAFC notes that users should never click on links included in suspicious emails, especially if it’s not a secure link.Sites with a secure connection will display a lock symbol in the left hand side of the URL bar in your web browser. Secure sites will also start with “https” (the “s” stands for secure).
But Levin notes that consumers should continue to be vigilant after filing their taxes, noting that cybercriminals are ready to strike at any time.
“There is some risk when you’re filing your taxes, but afterwards, when you’re awaiting a return, we also see a huge spike in these types of scams,” he said.
CTVNews.ca will have stories on tax season every Money Monday. Look for it in our 5 Things to Know.