Scammers out in force in 2018 tax season

Every year around this time (and indeed, increasingly, throughout the year), we hear of people who have either been scammed or have had someone try unsuccessfully to scam them.

It always ramps up around now because it’s tax return time. Scammers prey on people’s fear of being hit with a huge bill because they’ve done something wrong on their taxes. Not something deliberately wrong — in all likelihood, most of the intentional tax cheats sleep like babies — but those who missed something they didn’t know they needed or put in something they were supposed to exclude. Citizens are afraid of the Canada Revenue Agency.

So people, particularly seniors, tend to be vulnerable to the unscrupulous who call in an attempt to extract money. Tax scams generally have a few things in common, though there is a range of sophistication.

Often, they’ll start with a phone call, either with a person on the end of the line or an automated message that informs the hapless receiver that the call originates from the CRA. After that elevates the listener’s heart rate, they’re then told they owe money for some reason — the more incomprehensible the better, for the scammers. That is typically followed by the threat of arrest or other legal action if the person doesn’t pay up immediately — as in, give us your credit card number over the phone right now or find the RCMP at your door.

The more developed scams will have another number at the ready, should someone be suspicious. Ostensibly this is the person to call if you have any questions or want to verify what you’ve been told. Of course, it’s just someone at another phone, probably in the same room as the person who first called you, who’s part of the scam too. But psychologically, victims feel since they are making that second call, dialling themselves, somehow it adds veracity to the whole thing.

Of course, the CRA does not act in this manner. They will not phone you if there is something wrong with your taxes. They will not demand immediate payment over the phone. They will never demand payment in bitcoin (yes, really, scammers are this brazen). They will not send the RCMP to arrest you.

In fact, the CRA will not even use the phone to make original contact. They use Canada Post. Yep, good old snail mail.

So, if you get one of these calls, hang up. If you get scammed, call the RCMP. As embarrassed as you may feel, it may help others avoid walking in your shoes.

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