The following column was submitted to the Tri-City News from the Better Business Bureau (BBB).
Tax scams are amongst the most stubborn cons out there.
They reappear every year, with a slightly different spin.
The most common tax scam involves someone posing as the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA), trying to trick you into either paying up or sharing personal information.
With online filing opening on Feb. 21, Canadians are being encouraged to file their tax returns electronically and as soon as possible.
Filing online is the preferred method, as the CRA is able to produce your notice of assessment (NOA) and refund faster, versus a paper return, which the CRA anticipates could take up to 10–12 weeks to process.
While filing taxes online is faster and more convenient, it also widens the net of opportunity for scam artists to target Canadians.
Taxpayers are encouraged to watch for various versions of tax scams such as phishing emails with malicious links, fake CRA websites or calls asking for personal information, and communications through non-traditional mediums such as text messages and direct messages on social media.
In these scams, imposters go to great lengths to appear real, for example, they may provide a fake badge number and name or have their caller ID appear to be from Ottawa or a CRA unit, cloak emails to look like official websites and much more.
While Canadians are now much better at identifying and avoiding CRA scam calls, they are unlikely to go away any time soon.
Some reports share that these scam calls are persistent and menacing, calling as often as five times per day from completely different local numbers.
They’ll push you into action before you have time to think, badgering personal information out of you and insisting payments be made by wire transfer, prepaid debit, credit cards or even bitcoin.
Reports to BBB Scam Tracker explain that the scam generally takes two basic forms:
The first type usually begins with a serious and official sounding automated voice, then a fake CRA agent will claim you owe back taxes and pressure you into paying a certain amount.
They’ll also claim there is a warrant out for you, threaten you with arrest and fines if you do not comply.
In the second form of impersonation calls, scammers claim they are issuing tax refunds and ask you for personal information so they can send your money.
This information is later used for identity theft. Scammers also use this approach to target college students by claiming a "federal student tax" has not been paid.
TAX IDENTITY THEFT SCAMS
Another tax scam to watch out for is tax identity theft.
This occurs when scammers use your Social Insurance Number to file a tax return in your name and collect your refund.
It can also be someone using your information to get a job.
Unfortunately, consumers generally do not realize they have been victims of tax identity theft until they get a written notice from the CRA saying that more than one tax return was filed or paid by an employer they do not know.
In a BBB Scam Tracker report, a consumer explained how this almost happened to her:
"I received an email from the CRA claiming that I am eligible for a $570 tax return. The window mentioned to claim the tax return was very short. I was asked to click the link in the email and fill out my credit card information to claim the return. The link looked a lot like a CRA webpage link, and there was even a CRA employee name and ID at the end of the email."
This is a classic example of an online phishing tax scam.
- File your taxes as early as possible. File before a scammer has the chance to use your information to file a fake return.
- Only deal with trustworthy tax preparation services. For many people, major life changes, business ownership, or simply a lack of knowledge about the ever-changing tax laws make finding a trustworthy tax preparer a good idea. That said, not all tax preparers have the same level of experience and training. Visit bbb.org to find tax preparers in your area.
- Remember that the CRA does not initiate contact with taxpayers by email, text message or social media. CRA emails will never request personal or financial information, PIN numbers, passwords or similar access information for credit cards.
- Check out websites carefully. Ensure you access the real CRA website when filing your taxes electronically or inquiring for additional information.
- Use unique and complex passwords. Always use unique passwords for your CRA and online banking accounts. Do not reuse the same password for different systems. You increase the risk of scammers gaining access if there is a data breach on another platform that uses the same login details as your CRA account.
- Create a PIN. Set up a personal identification number (PIN) once you log into My Account on the CRA website or call them and set it up with the help of a CRA call centre agent. This will help to confirm your identity for future calls with the CRA.
- Sign up for email notifications from the CRA. This service notifies taxpayers by email if their address or direct deposit information has been changed on CRA records. These notifications can act as an early warning for potentially fraudulent activity.
- Act immediately if you have been scammed. If you are a victim in Canada, contact your local police service. If you believe your Canadian Social Insurance Number has been stolen, contact Service Canada at 1-800-206-7218. Also, report it to BBB Scam Tracker so you can help to warn others.
For the latest information on how to protect yourself as a consumer, visit the BBB's website.