Ah, tax season. The most wonderful season of all — at least for us accountants, anyway. For the average person, it’s a frustrating time of sifting through expenses, forms, and to make things worse, your phone ringing off the hook with fake calls from the “CRA.” Unfortunately, not every scam is so easy to spot. In 2019 alone, 45,000 Canadians lost more than $96 million to fraud according to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre. That’s why it’s so important to discuss what some of the most common tax scams are, how to discern imposters from the real Canadian Revenue Agency, and how to keep your money and information safe.
Common tax scam tactics
CRA scam calls: the automated phone call
“This is the Canadian Revenue Agency. We are connecting you to our legal department because you owe...” Sound familiar? This scam call is one of the most common tactics being used right now. An unfamiliar number will call, and an automated voice will announce to you that you are under investigation by Revenue Canada or a similar message. They tell you that they are going to put you on with an agent, where they will try to get your personal information.
This scam is one of the most common, and one of the most effective because of the fear that it invokes. Who doesn’t feel slightly nervous every tax season when they hit submit? Luckily, there are some simple ways to determine real CRA calls from scam calls.
- The CRA is a bureaucratic (see also: mildly boring) institution. They will never use an aggressive, intimidating, or threating tone, nor will they leave voicemails asking for personal information. If the real CRA calls, it will normally be to discuss your specific case details, not threaten you with legal action.
- The CRA does not ask for immediate payment, especially via phone. Their first call is normally just to sort out information about your return or any discrepancies.
- The CRA will never ask for gift cards of any kind, under any circumstances.
CRA scam emails: the suspicious email
The CRA scam email asks for immediate payment or suggests that you have a pending refund. These emails often sound more official and do a better job masking their scam-iness than calls or text messages. Subject lines include notifications of payment or try to incite a sense of urgency by saying “IMMEDIATE.”
Email is a method of communication used by the CRA, but only under one very particular circumstance — to notify you that you have a message waiting in your legitimate CRA portal. Here are other ways to determine a scam email from a real CRA communication email:
- Take a look at the From field in the email. The name might say Team Canada or the Canadian Revenue Agency, but what is the actual email address? This will often show up as a randomized series of characters. Emails sent from the CRA’s email notification service will have the sender name Canada Revenue Agency / Agence du Revenu du Canada.
- The CRA will never disclose important information in emails or include links unless you have already explicitly spoken to an agent on the phone, and they said they would follow up with links or forms. Typically, they will only email you to inform you of a message waiting in your actual CRA account, or they will send you a physical piece of mail.
- As with the phone, the CRA will never demand immediate payment through an email link or in the form of gift cards.
The unexpected letter
Does the CRA still send physical mail? Yes. Are there occasionally mail scams? Sadly, also yes. This is one of more rare instances when it comes to tax scams; however, it does occur. Like the other methods in our article, there are a few ways to discern real CRA mail from fake:
- The CRA will never ask to meet in person or for immediate payment to an individual.
- Look for a contact number, email address, or other markers on the mail that indicate where to contact a CRA representative. If those are there, run a quick Google search of the number or contact email first to confirm that it is the CRA, and then call to get more details before complying with any requests in the letter.
The unwanted message
Tax scams are often run from overseas, making digital communication some of the easiest methods to facilitate. Luckily, messaging is also the easiest to rule out as a legitimate form of communication from the CRA. If an account claiming to be the CRA (or from the CRA) ever reaches out through text message, iMessage, WhatsApp, Facebook messenger, or any other electronic, non-email communication form, it is a fake account.
The Canadian Revenue Agency will never slide into any of your DMs or personal electronic devices. The CRA only communicates via in-platform message on the official CRA platform, official Government of Canada mail, or by phone. If you receive any kind of CRA message this way, it’s fake.
Fraud can happen to anyone
A lot of the information here may seem obvious to you, but that’s exactly what makes it so pervasive.
“In 2020, the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre received 101,483 fraud reports involving nearly $160 million in reported losses. Moreover, 67,294 of the reports were from Canadian consumers and businesses, that reported losses totalling more than $104.2 million.”
That’s a lot of money lost for something that’s “easy” to spot. No matter how savvy you feel you are at avoiding scams, we strongly recommend you always guard your information carefully, change your passwords regularly, and speak to your older relatives to save them the pain and embarrassment that comes with incidents like this.
Looking to make your tax season even easier? Book a free consult with one of the True North team members to learn how we can help small business owners like you take the fear out of tax time. Contact us today.
Read more about Personal Tax topics that may be helpful to you and your small business.