Tax season is upon us, and every year, scammers try to make the most of it. They flood vulnerable individuals across the country with seemingly legitimate phone calls, text messages, letters and emails, in an effort to make as much money as possible. If people don’t have spot fraudulent communications, the scammers can make a LOT of money.
Here are some of the most common scams you’re likely to see this tax season, as well as tips to avoid falling prey to the scammers.
Phone calls are one of the main ways scammers try to make money. Most of the time, scammers will call you, either with a pre-recorded message or with a real-life caller. They may say you owe the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) or Revenu Québec money. They may also use aggressive language and/or threaten you with a police visit, jail time or heavy fines. They will urge you to stay on the line or face severe consequences.
How to know if it’s a scam: often, these calls will not refer to you by name. They may not give a name for the agent who is calling you. They may be rude or aggressive. They may ask for personal, private information such as your passport number, health card, password or driver’s licence. The CRA will NEVER ask for this information over the phone. Revenu Québec will never ask for your social insurance number (but the CRA might).
How to know if it’s legitimate: federal and provincial governments may call you to request a tax audit. If they do, they’ll refer to you by your full legal name and identify themselves properly. They’ll always be courteous. They may ask for some information to verify your identity, such as your full name, date of birth, address and account, or social insurance number.
TEXT MESSAGES (SMS)
The CRA states on its website that it NEVER communicates with taxpayers via text messages or on instant messaging apps such as WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Skype, etc. Revenu Québec may communicate with you via SMS, but ONLY if you have requested an access code. They will never request information via text message from you.
Some scammers will send you a text saying the government has paid you a certain amount, and to click on a link to claim the amount. NEVER click on any suspicious links sent to you via text message. If you receive a text or instant message from the CRA or Revenu Québec asking you for information or to click on a link, IT’S A SCAM!
Similarly to text messaging, scammers may use email to attempt to steal money or personal information. You should NEVER click on any links in emails that look suspicious.
How to know if it’s a scam: the government will never ask for personal information via email, or send you a form to fill out online. The ONLY TIME the government might send you a link is if you ask for it specifically during a phone call with a legitimate agent. These links will only contain information – NEVER any forms or requests for personal information. Scammers may also ask for money via email. The government will NEVER do this, and they will NEVER ask for payment in the form of bitcoin, Interac e-transfer, prepaid cards of gift cards. Tax accounts are always payable by cash or cheque, directly to the government.
How to know if it’s legitimate: governments may send you an email to notify you that a new document is available in your secure portal on their website. They may also send you links to information on their official websites, but ONLY if you ask for it during a call.
Phishing is a criminal activity that consists in sending fraudulent communications to someone disguised as legitimate communications.
For example, a scammer may send you an email with the CRA’s logo and formatting similar to the CRA’s official emails. Such messages may also come through traditional mail.
These messages are usually well-written and cleverly disguised to look almost EXACTLY like the real deal. In the case of emails, they may contain a link that you’ll be asked to follow to complete a payment or give personal information. In the case of traditional mail, the envelope may contain a for you’ll be asked to send back… But you’ll be sending it to scammers instead of the CRA/Revenu Québec!
How to tell if it’s a phishing message or the real deal: phishing messages are usually send as a mass message the hundreds or thousands of people at once. That means they probably won’t include your full name or any other details confirming they know who you are. The CRA/Revenu Québec will usually refer to you by your full legal name and provide proof that the message is from a legitimate source.
In addition, scam messages are often designed to make you think it’s URGENT to respond to avoid heavy fines or jail time. Legitimate messages will never pressure you into rushed action, and will instead clearly explain their purpose and the next course of action.
IF YOU’VE BEEN SCAMMED or TARGETED
If you suspect you’ve been scammed, or that someone is attempting to scam you, report the incident to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre. If you believe a scammer has succeeded in stealing money or personal information, contact your local police.