Edmonton police warn of iTunes tax scam
Fraudsters posing as tax collectors ask for payment in iTunes cards
Edmonton police are warning people about a tax-payment scam after a woman was duped into purchasing $37,000 worth of iTunes gift cards — and lost all the money.
"She'd just had a baby, so the baby was brand new, she was sleep-deprived and she had shared with me that she was suffering from postpartum depression," Det. Linda Herczeg said Wednesday.
"She received a phone call from someone claiming to be the CRA," said Herczeg. "They do telephone number spoofing so the number that was displayed to her actually showed the CRA number."
Police say victims are typically directed to purchase gift cards — often in large denominations and quantities — at specific retailers that don't ask too many questions.
Once the cards are activated, victims are asked to remove the security stickers and provide the identification numbers to the fraudsters, who then sell the numbers on the black market.
The new mother in Edmonton purchased the iTunes cards as requested and then was told she needed to buy more. When she hesitated the fraudster began threatening her with potential consequences.
'She spent $37,000 in purchasing iTunes'
"He says, 'We're coming to arrest to you, now you have no one to take care of your children; we're going to take away your passport, you won't be able to leave the country; you won't get any benefits from the federal government,' " said Herczeg.
"So she just felt very pressured and very emotionally stressed to go and take care of that and so she spent $37,000 in purchasing iTunes and she lost all of the money."
The new mom was one of 187 Edmonton victims of CRA fraud in 2016. In total, they were duped out of more than $625,000.
The individual losses ranged from $100 to $72,000. The victims ranged in age from 20 to 90.
Herczeg said the thieves request iTunes cards because they're in demand and easy to resell.
Can't pay your tax bill with pop songs
Canada Revenue Agency spokesperson TJ Madigan believes the fraudsters rely on catching people off-guard.
"As Canadian as it may be, you cannot pay your tax bill with Justin Bieber songs," said Madigan. "But people get frustrated and scared and panicked when they get a phone call from Canada Revenue Agency asking for something.
"It's always about being suspicious. If something seems out of place or fishy, hang up the phone, don't respond to the email, and call CRA directly."
Retailers are also stepping up to prevent this type of fraud. Walmart has posted notices and trained staff to keep an eye out.
Jennifer Forster, manager of the Windermere Walmart store, said cashiers are trained to get a manager involved for any purchase of iTunes cards that exceeds $100.
Staff there have already saved one couple from getting scammed, she said.
"They were physically on the phone with, they were led to believe, Revenue Canada," said Forster of two customers who were trying to purchase $1,500 worth of iTunes cards.
'Get a manager involved'
"When we asked to look at their cell phone it clearly actually had the Revenue Canada phone number because we googled Revenue Canada to double check it."
The couple was discouraged from making the purchase and advised to take the matter to police. They did.
"[They] came back about a week later and thanked us," said Forster.
Edmonton police and the Canada Revenue Agency advise anyone to call them directly for advice and guidance if they receive a suspicious call or text from someone claiming to be be with the CRA.