Edmonton police warn of iTunes tax scam

Edmonton police have issued a warning about a scam in which someone claims to be with Canada Revenue Agency and asks for payment with iTunes gift cards.

Fraudsters posing as tax collectors ask for payment in iTunes cards

Edmonton police and the Canada Revenue Agency say you can't pay your taxes with iTunes gift cards. If someone is asking you to, you're being scammed. (CBC)

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.

Those circumstances combined with some elaborate tricks fooled the woman into thinking she was dealing with the Canada Revenue Agency.
Det. Linda Herczeg says one Edmonton woman lost $37,000 to the scam. (CBC)

"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.

‘They were physically on the phone with, they were led to believe, Revenue Canada’

7 years ago
Duration 0:54
A Walmart manager describes how two potential fraud victims avoided a phone scam while shopping.

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.

"As the Edmonton police explained, sometimes in that panic and being held on the phone for long periods of time, they do things that wouldn't make sense.
Revenue Canada spokesperson TJ Madigan said fraudsters can talk victims into doing things that don't make sense.

"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.

An RCMP constable’s tips to steer clear of phone fraudsters

7 years ago
Duration 0:30
Const. Sean Milne clarifies how government workers from the Canada Revenue Agency or Immigration Services never use pressure tactics to collect payment from individuals.