COVID-19 as a virus has commanded our attention since early March but, in effect, we are discovering most governments, including Canada’s front-line medical watchdogs, saw the signals sooner.
But there is another unexpected viral consequence of the pandemic and that is fraud and various scams targeting Canadians, most of them seniors.
Canada Revenue Agency recently announced it was hacked and several thousand users were affected (5,500 at current estimate but final numbers to be determined). Hackers were attempting to steal the identities of online filers to steal tax benefits or make false claims in their names for COVID-related assistance programs.
The scams are more extensive than the hacks, but COVID has accelerated them due to many more people working at home and spending more time on their personal computers.
Email phishing attempts to lure people into responding to supposed contact by CRA to divulge personal information, robot phone calls threatening CRA legal actions and direct mail using extremely realistic CRA letterhead are all tools being used by the fraudsters.
CRA is aware of the problem and has posted on its website what you can expect from its contact with you and what is fraudulent.
For instance, CRA will not ask for personal or financial information by email. Nor will it send you an email link to your refund or demand an immediate payment by bitcoin or prepaid gift cards from any retailer.
Neither will CRA resort to text messaging or instant messaging from Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp. If you get one of these, do not open but delete it immediately.
The most recent scam relates to the Canada Emergency Response Benefit. If you get a message that you received a CERB deposit, it is most likely a scam and definitely do not click on the link. Delete the message.
Phone calls, in particular, target seniors largely because there are databases that monitor Canada’s aging population and contact information. Their method of operation is to state you are seriously delinquent in your payments to CRA, and serious legal consequences are about to be enforced against you. This is not part of the CRA’s operational procedure and should be a quick signal that the call is a scam.
You can verify a caller’s name, work section, location and then verify if it is a valid enquiry by calling 800-959-8281, or if you are a business, 800-959-5525.
More information on fraudulent tax activity can be viewed on CRA’s website or at www.canada.ca/en/revenue-agency/corporate/security.html.
Mail scams are particularly insidious because the letterhead is a complete knock-off of the real thing.
CRA is aware of the problem and its website gives a comprehensive description of the variety and nature of the most common scams.
There is also the usual benefit of resorting to your personal professional tax or financial adviser as a failsafe from fraudulent activity.
Grant Diamond is a tax analyst in Saskatoon, SK., with FBC, a company that specializes in farm tax. Contact: [email protected] or 800-265-1002.