Have you ever received a call purporting to be from the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA), alerting you that you have unpaid taxes that need to be paid immediately, or you will be arrested?
If you have – hopefully you recognized that something wasn't right and hung up the phone. If you received one of these calls, you were the target of a very common phone scam that has stolen at least $15 million from more than 4,000 Canadians[i].
How the scam typically works
The caller warns that you owe the government unpaid taxes and if you don't pay up immediately you will be arrested. In some cases, the fraudster may even suggest that the police are already en route to arrest the victim. Fraudsters typically use urgency and threats to try and trick their targets into sending money.
This scam is widespread and can target anyone who answers a phone. According to the RCMP, newcomers to Canada who may not understand how the Canadian tax system works, as well as people who don’t speak English or French as a first language may be particularly vulnerable[ii].
It's important to remember that the CRA will never call you using aggressive language or threatening arrest. There are legitimate reasons that the CRA may contact taxpayers by phone, email or mail, and they have published tips to help Canadians understand how to verify the authenticity of their calls.
How to protect yourself
- Hang up immediately.
- Tell your friends and family – while this is a very common scam, many people still don’t know about it, so spreading the word can help prevent others from being scammed.
- Always be wary. Any caller who is asking for your personal information over the phone, or is demanding action in a very short timeframe, should make you suspicious.
- If you get a call from an organization that sounds legitimate, but you aren't certain – it's best to hang up and call the organization back to verify the call. Look up the number for the organization either online or in the phone book.
If you think you've been the victim of a CRA scam
Report it: If you or a family member has fallen victim to a scam, report it to your local police, as well as the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.
Talk about it: If you've fallen victim to a scam, or even received a call and hung up – tell your story. The more people who know about these scams, the fewer chances fraudsters have to defraud people.