NDP MP calls on feds to make amendments to CERB to prevent scams targeting seniors
TORONTO -- NDP MP Don Davies is calling on the federal government to ban third parties from collecting fees for assistance with Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) applications after dozens of seniors were lured into applying for the benefit without qualifying for it.
The Vancouver-area MP says a woman, identifying herself as Joanne, has allegedly been contacting seniors in his riding and offering to sign them up for an undisclosed government benefit in exchange for a 10 per cent fee.
In a letter addressed to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Davies notes that there is no explicit prohibition against charging fees in exchange for assistance with CERB applications or access to the benefit -- describing the practice as an “immoral and unethical scheme.”
“It’s like charging flood victims a fee for handing out blankets or sandbags,” Davies told CTVNews.ca by phone from Vancouver Thursday.
“It’s just not appropriate and I would say it’s also illegal.”
- Newsletter sign-up: Get The COVID-19 Brief sent to your inbox
- At least 77 Vancouver seniors targeted in CERB application scheme
According to Davies, most of the targeted seniors were unaware that the promised benefit was the CERB or that they likely didn’t qualify for the emergency benefit introduced to help out of work Canadians during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The benefit provides up to $2,000 a month for those who have lost their job during the pandemic or are unable to work because they’re taking care of someone who is ill. Seniors who had been working could qualify for CERB, but most of those targeted in this particular scheme didn’t meet those requirements.
As a result, seniors who signed up for the benefit under “Joanne’s” guidance will have to pay the benefit back to the federal government, in addition to the hundreds of dollars in illegitimate fees they were convinced to pay.
Davies says he suspects the fraudster was counselling seniors to commit fraud.
At least 77 seniors in a Vancouver-area seniors residence were targeted by “Joanne,” including Carina Alamil who, like many others, heard about Joanne’s services from friends in the building.
“A friend of mine told me she got $2,000 and she gave me the number of ‘Joanne.’ I just wanted to see if it was really true,” Alamil told CTVNews.ca by phone Thursday.
Within a matter of days, Alamil said $6,000 showed up in her bank account, as promised. She agreed to pay the 10 per cent fee as requested by Joanne, in addition to disclosing her social insurance number, date of birth, and other personal information.
After Davies and local MLA Mable Elmore caught wind of the alleged scam from other residents at the home, Alamil reported the incident to the credit bureau and the police. She has since returned the money she received from CERB.
Davies has yet to hear a response from the Prime Minister’s office regarding his letter, sent Tuesday, but hopes the government takes swift action.
“If it happened here, it’s happening elsewhere,” he cautioned, mentioning reports that an Ontario-based tax consultancy was allegedly charging clients a $160 fee to assist them with their monthly CERB applications.
“I hope we can quickly move to close the loophole on this, because if you take away the profit incentive, I think you eliminate the scam possibility.”
Trudeau addressed concerns about possible fraudulent activity involving CERB benefits earlier this month.
"We have put in strong measures to ensure that anyone who is trying to defraud the system will get caught and there will be consequences,” he said.
“But that was not our priority, our priority was helping people immediately and the fraud measures will kick-in in the coming months.”
The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre says it is aware of the issue. A spokesperson confirmed to CTVNews.ca Friday that it has received upwards of 20 reports about third-party services charging fees in exchange for help applying for CERB from people across the country.
The centre is currently investigating these reports and would not comment on how these individuals are being solicited.
The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre reminds Canadians that there is no cost to apply for CERB and directs anyone with concerns about potential scams to place a complaint via their online reporting system.
The centre has a section of its website dedicated to COVID-19-related scams, including loan and financial service companies offering “loans, debt consolidation and other financial assistance services.” However, the website does not mention scams specific to CERB applications.