“Dear Ellen, I am the next victim of the CRA scam,” the man’s email said. “If it is of your interest, we can talk. Maybe you will be able to protect others.”
“Did you actually pay money to the fraudulent CRA people?” I asked.
“I have sent them over $60,000,” the man replied.
Canadians are receiving a deluge of calls from fake Canada Revenue Agency collectors, warning that police would show up to arrest then after an audit showed they had a whopping tax bill to pay.
The scam, which has circulated since January 2014, involves not just fraud but harassment.
“You feel very threatened and frightful. The callers don’t give you time to think,” says Jeffrey Thomson, a spokesman for the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.
The non-profit centre, a clearinghouse for fraud intelligence, says the callers are extremely aggressive in a way that does not represent Canada or the way that government agencies do business.
So, why do victims fall for the pitch? Here’s the story of one CRA scam victim, who wants to share information without using his name.
A 56-year-old born in Russia, the man has lived in Canada for 20 years and works as a consultant. One day last month, he received a recorded phone message telling him to call a toll-free number immediately or face arrest for tax evasion.
“Stupidly, I called back. I use a chartered accountant to file my taxes and I thought there could be a problem. I had no doubt I was dealing with the CRA,” he told me.
He might have resisted the shakedown if he were single. But he felt vulnerable after recently bringing his new wife — who speaks no English — and three-year-old daughter to Canada.
“They pushed me very hard. They called every five minutes. They said if I wouldn’t co-operate with them, I would be arrested. My accounts would be frozen. My family wouldn’t survive.”
A few things made him suspicious. The callers had Anglophone names, but spoke with Indian accents. He heard many voices in the background, also with Indian accents, telling people to do the things he was being told to do.
He was instructed to send money to the United States, using MoneyGram to wire up to $3,000 (U.S.) at a time to named individuals at post office box numbers across the country.
Why the U.S.? His case was already in the courts and had been transferred to a U.S. collection office, he was told. And he had to send the money in batches so as to not exceed MoneyGram’s daily limits.
His friends helped out with short-term, interest-free loans. A few weeks later, he learned his case was closed.
Then the scammers made a mistake. They asked for more money.
“I was told to deposit three years’ worth of income taxes in advance and send an extra $57,000 to the U.S.” he said he said of the second demand. “But I couldn’t do it again without putting a second mortgage on the house.”
This tipped him off to the fact that he had been played by criminals. He did some online research and contacted me after seeing my two recent columns about the CRA scam (on Oct. 24 and Oct. 31).
“I know the money is all gone. It’s a big deal, but I have a good job and I can get over it. I was lucky I didn’t send any more money at a critical moment,” he said. “Now I know how common this scam is. Many people are in the same boat.”
He filed a complaint with the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, offering to use information he had to catch the fraudsters, but was turned down.
The scammers operate from all over the world, using computer phone technology and caller ID spoofing to cover their tracks, Thomson says. Investigations into such scams pose challenges, such as gathering evidence in foreign countries and extraditing criminals to Canada.
The anti-fraud centre did share details of the man’s complaint with police and government agencies — especially the convoluted payment scheme, which shows that Canadian banks are making it harder to send money to U.S. banks through wire transfers.
Here is what I want to know:
• Why is the CRA scam still news after two years of persistent calls to potential victims?
• Why haven’t we seen major public awareness campaigns about this menace to public safety?
• Why can’t the government protect us from pretenders using its name to shake down vulnerable people?