New tactics, old scam: CRA fraud scheme still making the rounds

Police in Newfoundland and Labrador have had so many calls about a CRA scam already this year that they're asking people to call only if they've lost money. Meanwhile, one N.L. woman duped by a text version of the scam is worried about identity theft after sharing her personal information.

Police say not to call them, after CRA scam resurfaces in a big way in 2018

The CRA scam makes people believe it's legitimate by copying the look of the real CRA website. (Holly Caruk/CBC)

A St. John's woman who fell for a scam by someone claiming to be from the Canada Revenue Agency is warning others not to let the same thing happen to them.

They kind of make you panic. They're like, 'there's an investigation started into your account,' and you kind of jump a little bit.- Becky McHugh

Just hours after checking the CRA website to see if her HST rebate was available, university student Becky McHugh got a text message on her cellphone notifying her that an "investigation" had been started.

"They kind of make you panic. They're like, 'there's an investigation started into your account,' and you kind of jump a little bit. That's how they get you."

McHugh clicked on the link in the text message, which took her to a website where she started filling in a form with personal information.

Variation of a common scam

"Everything looked exactly the same as what was on the CRA web page, so I entered my social insurance number and I clicked 'Submit.'"

After she answered a few more questions, the website address caught her eye and she realized it didn't look legitimate after all.

She said it looked more like the web address for a home decor website.

The texting scam McHugh fell for is a variation on a common scam that's been circulating for a few years involving an email or phone call from someone claiming to be from the Canada Revenue Agency.

Becky McHugh is a post-secondary student in Newfoundland and Labrador who shared personal information, including her social insurance number, after being targeted by a CRA texting scam. (Submitted)

The scam asks people to provide personal information and even goes so far as to make outright demands for payment of one form or another.

But the Canada Revenue Agency doesn't use text as a way to get in touch with clients so, if you receive a text like McHugh did, you can know immediately that it is something that should be ignored.

Now McHugh is concerned that her social insurance number, name and home address are all in the hands of a scammer. She said the risk of identity theft is her biggest worry.

"I don't want anyone using my social insurance number, because who knows what they can do with that?"

Through the use of the internet and now cellphones, they're able to reach consumers that they were never able to reach before.- Jessica Gunson

McHugh reported the scam to the police, but she was told authorities can't do much unless she has proof someone has actually used her personal information to defraud her. She found that frustrating and said there should be more that police and other agencies can do.

Ron O'Connell of Corner Brook, N.L., also said not enough is being done to stop the CRA scam.

O'Connell was contacted through a call to his cellphone instead of a text. He recorded the call, which was threatening and menacing.

In the recording, a male voice says, "This call is from Canada Revenue Agency. The reason we are trying to contact you is to inform you that there is a lawsuit filed against you by the Canada Revenue Agency. And there is a warrant of arrest issued under your name."

This is the text message Becky McHugh received which, at first glance, appeared to her to be legitimate. (Submitted)

O'Connell told the Corner Brook Morning Show that he knew immediately that the call was a scam, but he says others could be fooled.

"Some people may get duped. Someone is saying they're going to issue a warrant for your arrest. Someone might panic and call this number back and give the scammers their data, but they should never do it."

He can't understand why the scam calls can't be traced and the perpetrators stopped.

However frustrated victims of the scam might be, police say there's not much they can do if a person hasn't lost any money.

Police say, 'Don't call us'

Earlier this month, the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary issued a press release to ask people not to call them unless there's been a financial loss.

RNC in Corner Brook say they've had a high number of calls lately about the CRA scam, and they're asking people to call the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre instead.

The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre says a common scam this time of year involves a text message from fraudsters posing as Canada Revenue Agency workers. (CBC)

The centre is like a clearing house for all of the reports of fraud across Canada, including reports of attempted extortion, which is how the CRA scam is classified.

Anti-fraud centre gets calls every day

Jessica Gunson, acting call centre and intake unit manager with the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, told CBC the centre has been inundated with complaints about the CRA scam, and gets calls every day from Canadians who've been targeted by scammers.

"Through the use of the internet and now cellphones, they're able to reach consumers that they were never able to reach before."

In 2017, that added up to more than 12,000 complaints and 965 people who actually lost money — nearly $4.7 million.

CRA urges caution

The Canada Revenue Agency says it takes a lot of time and effort to keep people informed about the risks of scam calls.

But the agency's Dawn Kennedy isn't optimistic the scam will end any time soon.

"It's very difficult for us to know who's doing it. And you may see from time to time certain groups of people have been arrested or charged or the scheme has stopped, only for another one to pop up again. So we do try to stop it but, unfortunately, scam artists are scam artists; they're going to keep trying."

Kennedy's advises people who want to verify a call or email to contact the CRA directly at 1-800-959-8281 or to login into the CRA's website securely with the My Account service.

About the Author

Bernice Hillier

Bernice Hillier is the host of The Corner Brook Morning Show, and covers issues all over western Newfoundland and southern Labrador.